The BBC gender pay-gap row is farcical

Samira Ahmed's pay battle shows how out of touch feminism has become.

Joanna Williams

How much should women be paid to have their make-up done? £100? What if it takes 45 minutes and – killer point – they also have to spend that time thinking? £1,000? What if that woman is a television presenter and all those minutes spent being made up and thinking, stretching back over several years, are added together? What would all that time be worth? Surely that would come in at around the £700,000 mark?

If there was ever a case for exposing how ludicrously privileged and out of touch feminism has become, it’s the battle between presenter Samira Ahmed and the BBC, which is currently playing out in the courtroom and in the pages of our newspapers. Ahmed claims she is a victim of the BBC’s institutional sexism because Jeremy Vine – a man – earns six times more than her for ‘doing the same job’. She is suing the corporation for £693,245 in lost earnings.

Make-up is just one of the bizarre grievances that Ahmed has raised: ‘It is likely that Jeremy Vine spends less time in make-up than I do. Women are more likely to be criticised for their appearance on air.’ This may well be true, but, if we really want to start counting minutes, should we subtract the time Vine spends shaving before arriving at the make-up studio?

Ahmed’s case against the BBC hinges on the fact that both her and Vine host viewer-feedback programmes that follow a similar format – she presents Newswatch and he presents Points of View. According to Ahmed, this means they do the same work and should therefore receive the same pay. In fact, Ahmed claims, she works harder than Vine, and not just because of all that time in make-up. She claims she also has to think of questions and know about what is happening in the news, rather than just learning a script. My guess is Vine might object to the charge that he just turns up, ugly and dishevelled, to read words unthinkingly on an autocue.

But why should Vine’s side of the story get in the way of the bigger picture? As Ahmed and her media chums have it, this is yet another example of the sexist Beeb’s persistent undervaluing of women. Feminists of the world unite and stand up for your impoverished and downtrodden sisters!

The problem here, of course, is that presenting a television show is not the same as standing on a production line in a factory – or, for that matter, being the one who has to apply Ahmed’s make-up. If we want to talk about pay gaps, perhaps we should start with the vast gulf in earnings between the BBC’s ‘talent’ and those who work at Broadcasting House as cleaners, caterers, admin assistants and behind the scenes.

Of course, presenters are not paid a set hourly rate, or a fixed amount for each widget they produce, like normal people. Their fees are determined by fame, name recognition, and their ability to attract an audience. Put crudely, Jeremy Vine is a household name but relatively few people have ever heard of Samira Ahmed (until now – whatever the outcome of the trial, it has certainly raised her profile).

Technically, both Ahmed and Vine look to camera, smile, read and ask the odd question. Hey, even I can do that! But I don’t because there is clearly something else involved, too – the ability to develop a rapport with the audience; a unique star quality, if you like. And this indescribable element means that what is valued in television land doesn’t follow the normal rules.

Vine’s show is classed as ‘entertainment’. It airs on BBC1 on a Sunday evening. Ahmed’s, on the other hand, is classed as a news programme, and is shown on the BBC News channel. In 2018, Newswatch was viewed by, on average, 106,000 adults, while 864,000 tuned in for Points of View. Perhaps it is morally wrong for the BBC to value entertainment over current affairs. But this would only be sexist if women were relegated to the news studios, leaving only men to twirl on Strictly Come Dancing.

It is not the case that Ahmed has been paid less than male colleagues on the same programme. She began on the same rate of pay as her predecessor, Ray Snoddy, and since then has gone on to earn more than him per episode. When she’s away, her male stand-ins on the show earn less than she does. Vine, meanwhile, was paid less than his predecessor, Terry Wogan, when he took over hosting Points of View.

Ahmed argues that the system is stacked against women because men – like Jeremy Vine – are more likely to become household names, and gain the celebrity status that means they can command eye-wateringly high pay. She has suggested that Vine was ‘gifted’ his primetime Radio 2 show by BBC managers and ‘handed opportunities that were not available to ambitious female presenters’. Who knows whether or not this is true. But I’d bet that young working-class men, struggling to break into the media, would find it hard to believe that men are given certain advantages purely because of their sex.

Perhaps there is one lesson for women in the Ahmed vs BBC showtrial. It turns out that Vine has an agent who is prepared to pull every trick in the book in order to secure a top fee for his client – including the sending of ‘rather colourful’ emails. Women who want to be paid more should adopt this tough approach, rather than claiming to be victims of discrimination.

There is no sexism at the BBC: it is an institutionally woke organisation. The only outrage is that it is us – the licence-fee payers – who pay to keep this entire show on the road.

Joanna Williams is associate editor at spiked. She is the director of the new think tank, Cieo. Find out more about it here.

Picture by: Getty

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.



Marvin Jones

15th November 2019 at 6:17 pm

How about the last two candidates for any particular programme should sit a test against each other
so the winner gets the job. By the way, has anyone seen Vine host “Eggheads”? he could be a an Egghead himself.

steve moxon

8th November 2019 at 12:05 am

Talking of the Boob: anyone see that Countryfile on the supposed ‘extremist’ far right’ group?
My complaint about it is being escalated up the Boob complaints greasy pole.
The Boob reckon its “extremism” to criticise multiculturalism, AND also if you uphold your own culture (if it’s the host community), and also if you cite the clear demographic trends.
I countered that it’s the Boob’s position which is demonstrably “extremist”, stemming from Boob ‘groupthink’ after fully swallowing ‘identity politics’ totalitarianism, in consequence of which the Boob is now a ‘hate group’ in the full sense of that term, and would be a proscribed organisation under government rules if ever they were to be reflexive.
So far all is upward buck-passing. I’m looking forward to the anodyne beside-the-point eventual reply and then seeing what the OFCOM numpties come out with.

steve moxon

7th November 2019 at 11:56 pm

Come on Boob, where’s the socialism? A tenner a show each for the useless lens mites. A ton max. None of ’em are worth more.
Never pay the Boob’s poll tax. Ask THEM to pay YOU for the totalitarianism with which they pollute your lounge. Challenge them to take you to court, citing the EU directive (hee hee) that no government should interfere with the receipt of free broadcast media. You get endless letters and not a single visit.

jessica christon

7th November 2019 at 9:01 pm

Only Jeremy Clarkson and Chris Evans so far have proved they can command these high salaries outside of the BBC. I haven’t seen any of the women do it and I don’t think they could because they’re mostly not worth it and the same goes for most of the men. This BBC gender pay row is a mini pi ss-take inside giant pi ss-take out of the license fee payer.

Nikitta Shepherd

7th November 2019 at 7:32 am

Unfortunately, though your article make some good points, you are talking about equal pay NOT the gender pay gap which is quite different. Sadly the media often conflate the two. The gender pay gap is about women on the whole being paid less that men one the whole. It is not about individual pay differences. Unequal pay for equal work is illegal and very rare in the UK, the gender pay gap on the other hand is not at all rare and the UK has one of the highest in Europe.

Gerard Barry

7th November 2019 at 8:59 am

The so-called “gender pay gap” exists mainly because men and women often pursue different lines of work. Men are overrepresented in construction, engineering and IT, for example. These jobs pay well (for obvious reasons, i.e. the workers are created something of real value). There are no real barriers to women entering these professions. If they did, I’m sure they’d earn just as much as their male counterparts. Then there’s the fact that, on average, men work longer hours than women. Most of my female colleagues only work part-time, for instance, as they have children who they, understandably, wish / have to spend time with. Agains, this is bound to affect earnings.

Jerry Owen

7th November 2019 at 7:13 pm

There is no gender pay gap. Women in many cases work less hours take maternity leave retire earlier etc .when the numbers are crunched with these factors included we have equality.

Gerard Barry

8th November 2019 at 8:55 am

I totally agree. Yet the myth of the “gender pay gap” keeps being peddled. Even some feminists agree that its bollox, e.g. Christina Hoff Sommers.

Claire D

8th November 2019 at 10:14 am

Yes, I’ve argued this in other places, people just repeat the mantra ” gender pay gap ” without understanding, or rather refusing to face the facts about the reasons for why it exists, which suggests to me it’s all about competing for the money in any way they can and not ‘ fairness ‘ at all.

Marvin Jones

15th November 2019 at 6:13 pm

The gender pay gap in Britain is such and inferior to other countries? probably we take merit more seriously. But for all this to happen in the BBC, heaven forbid.

Christopher Tyson

6th November 2019 at 5:50 pm

Jeremy Vine going quietly about his business may well wonder why he has been drawn into all of this. Labourers at the Vineyard perhaps may be apposite here. In this parable Jesus talks about people get paid different wages for the same work. The point was that the owner or foreman made a deal with the workers that he employed in the morning. He gave the same money to those he employed in the afternoon. To the morning moaners he said basically, ‘I made a deal with you and a stuck to it, I made a deal with some others and it’s none of your business’. Personally I think that there are many overpaid and over-rated people in our society, I think that there is also a problem with our capacity to make these judgements. But I’d rather not name names, you can appear churlish or envious. You might think there’s a kind of randomness or arbitrariness about these things, and in different circumstances it could have been me being over paid and over-rated, so up to a point lucky them. How about social justice or economic justice? It was a weakness of trade unions that they did not always have a big picture, they made claims on behalf of their industry or workplace, these claims could have implications for others or for the wider economy. Tackling economic injustice on a personalised basis, has little resonance, why should we care about individual journalists at the high end of the BBC? I mean literally why should we care, we all have our problems. The media are full of this story and the bad guys have been exposed, but where is the politics? Are these people socialists? How far do they want to go in terms of wealth distribution? Maybe they should go in to politics, develop a wider critique. A few examples that I’ve commented on over the past year or so. Noel Gallagher is widely held up to be some kind of genius, he has his admires so be it, he bought a house for £8 million. But there was a story in the press about The Edge, guitarist with U2, applying for planning permission for a house worth £80 million. Former politician David Miliband apparently earns close to a £1 million for working for a charity. Former Liberal leader Nick Clegg left politics and got a £1 million salary with Facebook. Former chancellor Gordon Brown has been known to earn in the region of 50K or more for a nights work public speaking. I recently read the former Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson has found herself a little part-time job, earning £50K for 18 days work, it takes me 2 years to earn that, but hey good luck to them, I’m not complaining. These are random examples, and the seriously rich keep themselves and their business private, but why pick on Jeremy Vine? Middle aged, white, posh, male maybe? While the same media sheds tears for wealthy powerful Royals like Meghan and Harry, and the black media celebrates JAY Z and Beyoncé celebrated for their wealth, everybody loves Stormzy whose quids in these days. But I guess Ms Ahmed won’t be shedding any tears for me, nor would I want her to, in truth these people all think that they are worth it, and they think that if you’re not making money that’s because you don’t amount to much.

Alex Ander

6th November 2019 at 5:38 pm

This is entirely about greed, jealousy and envy. And coveting.
It’s a tired and futile to equate salary/ earnings with a measurement of “equality”.
If this were true, then why don’t do we see these types of cases & legal action within gender/ sexes? Why only between? It is because the obvious truth is that numerous other factors predict what a person is being paid at any given moment in their career.
No – a persons value/ worth isn’t determined by their pay-packet – but their propensity to greed most certainly is.

Ven Oods

6th November 2019 at 2:59 pm

While the ‘pay gap’ may exist, I’ve concluded that they’re all a waste of money. Reading news or listener communications does not make them ‘talent’, however much their agents protest. Talent is Jennifer Saunders or Phoebe Waller-Bridge – people who produce original work. I doubt whether those two languish behind men in the income stakes, and quite rightly so.

Gareth Hart

6th November 2019 at 11:36 am

There seems to be this idea by commentators when such a story turns up that wokeness, political correctness and equality of outcome ideology is exclusive to how an organisation is funded – through a licence fee and that charging a subscription will be the holy grail that will guarantee a full and complete cure. I can assure commentators that advertising funded broadcasters and over-the-top (OTT) Internet streaming media subscription services are just as invested in the ideology that the BBC is engaging in. I’d also warn that getting rid of the licence fee would have unintended consequences for people who rely on free-to-air television and radio broadcasting and OTT on-demand content.

James Hillier

6th November 2019 at 9:43 am

The BBC appears to be losing control of its pay and promotion policies. If a high profile job falls vacant, there is pressure from BBC Women and feminists in the media to fill that role with a woman, even if she is not as experienced as a male candidate.

Once she’s in the job, she can then look around for men on the same grade (and remember, the BBC recently reduced and simplified its seniority grades, meaning that there is now a great deal of variation in experience and work performed within each grade) and see if she can find a man who is doing work that looks superficially “the same”. She can then demand the same pay as him, using public accusations of sexism as a bargaining tool.

Why not just simplify things and say that every time a man is promoted, if he earns more than any woman on the same pay grade then all of those women must automatically get a pay rise, no matter what the relative experience and talents of those involved, the actual work everyone is doing or the merits of the case? By the same token, if a woman is hired or promoted she must get the maximum possible pay for that role, simply because she is a woman.

That seems to what BBC Women is aiming for. So why waste time. Let’s just do it and then sit back and see what happens.

Genghis Kant

6th November 2019 at 9:37 am

In the interests of gender equality perhaps it should be mandatory for a woman to work for 5 years on a bin lorry before she is allowed to call herself a feminist.

Gerard Barry

6th November 2019 at 9:33 am

The level of narcissism shown by many upper middle class women nowadays is truly astonishing. I work in a law firm where the associate laywers start off at a staggering EUR 100,000 per annum. There is of course no difference between the men and the women in this regard. Despite this, the company places great emphasis on “diversity” because, apparently, there are not enough female partners at the firm. To that end, we have several people at the company whose job is is to encourage greater “diversity” at the firm, especially at management level. These women (they’re all women, not surprisingly) are getting highly paid despite not contributing one cent to the company’s value. We also have events such as “ladies lunches” to help the poor downtrodden female lawyers earning a mere EUR 100,000 per annum. Isn’t there something obscene about people earning this kind of money playing the victim.

Marvin Jones

15th November 2019 at 6:25 pm

I assume that the poor men get expenses to even up the perks. This has become one very crazy planet. The meek, ignorant, sentimental and insane are inheriting the world.

Jerry Owen

6th November 2019 at 9:32 am

She’s paid .. ‘how much’ for ‘how many’ viewers ?
I remember when the BBC pulled in millions for virtually everything they produced.
I am absolutely delighted to see how far they have fallen.
And BTW the odious greedy woman is suing the license payer.
Time to make the BBC subscription only.

H McLean

6th November 2019 at 8:47 am

As usual the debate is not for equality of opportunity but equality of outcome. With the gender pay gap myth they argue for communism for the ladies and capitalism for the men where men have to work for and negotiate their salary but the wamen are just given it. They’re all strong independent women until something is difficult then suddenly they have no power and are blown about like a leaf on the wind with no agency of their own. Also, I doubt ANYONE at the BBC is earning less than they’re worth.

The BBC is woke to the point of being an illiberal affront to logic and reason, so they’ll probably give in to this lunacy sooner or later.

James Hillier

6th November 2019 at 9:46 am

“Also, I doubt ANYONE at the BBC is earning less than they’re worth.”

I bet you they are. You can’t give pay rises of the magnitude we’ve been seeing without making savings elsewhere. The elsewhere will be among lower profile roles without the backing of a sex-based public lobby group.

A Game

6th November 2019 at 5:04 am

Ahmed is right. The BBC, being a public owned broadcaster, with suitably left wing views, should act as a collective. You work there, you get a base salary, under what those in the private market get paid, and there are no stars, no massive, celebrity signings. You want more money? You hawk your wares in the private sector. That’s when your worth will truly be judged.

On the feminism front… its embarrassing. Make them stop, J Williams, make them stop.

Dean Laccohee

8th November 2019 at 3:59 pm

Completely agree! As a publicly owned broadcaster it’s under no obligation to chase ratings therefore no compulsion to pay for the ‘best’ talent. Looking at the future of the Beeb, I don’t see any solution to the license fee issue other than to make the whole corporation available on a subscription basis – if you don’t pay for it, you can’t watch it. Just like Sky, Netflix, etc. It would go bust almost overnight & they’d have to lay off thousands of staff. Therefore it’ll never happen. I’m not really anti-BBC by any means, but you have to question the validity of a public broadcaster in the 21st century. Young people on the whole just don’t watch terrestrial TV anymore. And as that audience increases I think they’ll find that there will be less and less people paying the license fee.

Marvin Jones

15th November 2019 at 6:27 pm

If the BBC went down the subscription route, would their stars settle for minimum wage?

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