BBC presenters are not oppressed

How dare Samira Ahmed compare her £700,000 payout to the equal-pay struggles of the past?

Joanna Williams

Joanna Williams


Have you recovered yet? Samira Ahmed’s stunning courtroom triumph in her equal-pay dispute with the BBC was surely the feminist victory the nation needed. As other female presenters began sharing their joy on Twitter, it became clear that the record payout awarded to Ahmed (a woman who had, until this point, been little known outside of her own family) for presenting Newswatch (a programme few people have ever knowingly watched) was a moment we could all celebrate. My guess is that even the corporation’s cleaners were downing bottles of champagne as they waited for the night bus in the early hours of a cold Friday morning.

Ahmed claimed she was owed almost £700,000 in back pay when her fee of £440 per episode of Newswatch was compared to the £3,000 her male colleague, Jeremy Vine, got for presenting each episode of Points of View. The difference was, of course, nothing to do with the two programmes being on different channels, having different subject matter, bringing in different numbers of viewers, or the fact that one presenter is a household name and the other is not. No, the pay differential was entirely down to misogynistic BBC bosses overseeing a culture of institutionalised sexism. Obviously.

After judgement was passed, Ahmed hot-footed it back over to Broadcasting House to give her straight-to-camera reaction. She thanked all her media chums, as well as her legal team, before tearfully finishing up with: ‘I’d especially like to thank the Ford Dagenham women and the women at the Grunwick factory strike who fought for equal pay going back to the 1960s.’

I’m sorry, but how dare Ahmed speak of her courtroom appearance in the same breath as the Dagenham and Grunwick disputes? How dare she ask us to compare her experiences at the BBC to the struggles faced by women – and men – who stood up to their bosses in the 1960s and 70s?

Ahmed continued to work for – and be paid by – the BBC throughout her dispute, while the Dagenham and Grunwick strikers went unpaid for many months, struggling to cover their bills and feed their children in the process. Ahmed moved between Broadcasting House and the courts via her solicitor’s office. The strikers stood on picket lines and, especially at Grunwick, faced police brutality. Ahmed’s supporters used their Guardian columns, Radio 4 programmes and social-media followers to generate publicity. Jayaben Desai, leader of the Grunwick strike, went on hunger strike after trade unions, under pressure from the Labour government of the time, withdrew their support.

It’s not just different tactics that make Ahmed’s comparison of herself to the Dagenham and Grunwick strikers nauseating. The machinists at Ford Dagenham used their collective bargaining power to demand their jobs be reclassified as skilled work and that they be paid accordingly. Their success sent a message that working-class women could not be taken for granted as a cheap and expendable source of labour. Their battle led to changes in legislation that benefited all women.

Meanwhile, the strike that took place at the Grunwick film-processing factory in 1977 was never solely concerned with women’s rights. The strikers sought to challenge the low pay and appalling treatment of the factory’s primarily immigrant workers who were, yet again, seen as cheap, expendable and passive. Jayaben Desai called for unity among all workers – male and female, black and white – and she got it. London dockers, members of other trade unions and political supporters stood alongside the Grunwick strikers. In July 1977, they numbered almost 20,000 in just one day.

The strikes at Dagenham and Grunwick took place in the context of a broader class struggle. The only bargaining chip that workers had was solidarity. Their cause was a collective demand for better pay and conditions.

The BBC women, in comparison, are taking legal action to bolster their own privately negotiated pay packets. Victory for Ahmed represents success for a handful of individuals who are already incredibly privileged. It will make no difference whatsoever to the lives of millions of working women and men.

NUJ general secretary Michelle Stainstreet described Ahmed’s decision to take her pay case to court as ‘incredibly brave’. Desai’s actions – standing up to hostile bosses, cabinet ministers, police, media and, ultimately, much of the trade-union movement – represented true bravery. The use of that word to describe Ahmed’s trip from the BBC’s make-up department to the courtroom and back home to a well-stocked fridge is laughable.

Samira Ahmed is not alone, of course. It was announced yesterday that Radio 4 newsreader Sarah Montague received an out-of-court settlement of £400,000 last year. She received an apology from the BBC following years of apparent ‘unequal treatment’. The BBC is now said to be facing pay claims from many more women, potentially facing a bill running into the millions. It is worth remembering that this money comes from us, the British public, via the compulsory licence fee.

There are of course pay inequalities today, despite it being illegal to pay men and women differently for the same work. It would take someone employed as a carer the best part of 20 years to earn the equivalent of Sarah Montague’s payout, never mind her actual salary. Care work tends to be dominated by women. But as these women are paid the same as men who do the same work, there are no court cases to be brought. There are certainly no six-figure out-of-court settlements in the pipeline.

The next time a woman at the BBC celebrates receiving an enormous pay-out she might want to pause before comparing herself to the Dagenham or Grunwick strikers. While they promoted solidarity among all workers, whatever their sex or skin colour, today’s pity-me presenters promote only themselves.

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.


Captain Scott

26th January 2020 at 8:12 am

The BBC is stuffed due to the unique way in which it is funded. ITV can prove that Ant and Dec are worth more to it than Julie Etchingham because they can demonstrate the extra views and hence advertising revenue that their work generates.

The BBC gets its revenue by threatening its customers with jail. Therefore it makes no difference whether Jeremy Vine or the person who cleans the loos presents Points of View. The financial outcome is the same and therefore whilst their might be a modest difference between payments, based on performance and service, two compitent presenters should get broadly the same.

This is good news because it will mean that the BBC should lose all its dreadful, overpaid presenters.

Forlorn Dream

22nd January 2020 at 12:56 pm

Most of these presenter’s simply sit in a chair and read words from a screen. They have no input into the programme creation.
If you can be replaced by an average 5year old then you should be lucky to earn minimum wage.

steve moxon

22nd January 2020 at 11:39 am

The Boob would win on appeal.
Those who have become recognised personalities should not be used as a benchmark re pay by those who have not achieved that status. [Not that the Boob should be paying silly amounts to any of ’em, or even making output that depends on some ‘star’.]
Generally, the dumb law re making all sorts of disparate work supposedly equivalent is wide open to challenge. Local authorities should not be paying family-friendly, indoor part-time dinner ladies the same rate as shift-working outdoor bin collectors.

steve moxon

22nd January 2020 at 11:31 am

It is a Boob fallacy that you have to pay loony sums to presenters.
There are vast hordes queuing up to become TV presenters.
You could be refreshing good ones without paying a cent: the kudos alone would still have the hordes queuing up.
The argument that they would just get poached by commercial rivals doesn’t stack up because there are only a limited number of roles available, and a steady set of appearances on the Boob can be milked to provide plenty of income from piggy-backed work.
The Boob should be making genuine public service quality broadcasting on a budget, not expensive flim-flam to try to compete with commercial rivals.
That way they would become distinctive, instead of being one broadcaster among a crowd, and as such, completely failing to justify its poll tax.

Ven Oods

22nd January 2020 at 10:44 am

Isn’t it now the case that if you self-identify as ‘oppressed’ then everyone is obliged to agree, on pain of being imprisoned for ‘mis-fendering’?

Michael Lynch

22nd January 2020 at 10:21 am

The BBC is screwed. All those women presenters and actors will be coming for back pay and compensation now. Imagine the costs, all coming out of the public money pot. It’s exactly how the Unions destroyed their own industries back in the day. The license fee is untenable given this alone, but it’s also an outdated model in what it can offer the consumer. I have SKY Q and it’s brilliant vfm with its ‘On Demand’ platform etc. The Beeb once offered objectivity as a public broadcasting service and a belief that it was above all political viewpoints, that was its sole selling point, but now that’s long gone it’s simply not worth public support. In fact, it’s now rotten to the core with identity politics and it picked a London-centric view on Brexit. The people who run it know it’s done for too, notice how Hall is getting out now while the going is still good; the rats leaving the sinking ship.

jan mozelewski

22nd January 2020 at 2:07 pm

The BBC is screwed? Which only goes to prove the adage that every cloud has a silver lining.
Seriously, they have all been in their echo chamber so long they have no grasp of reality and no understanding of how anyone outside it thinks or feels. (Besides, if it is different to their own views it must be Wrong and so, quite rightly, ignored and disrespected.)
It reminds me forcibly of another echo chamber in the news at present…the Upper Chamber.

Jerry Owen

22nd January 2020 at 9:24 am

Good article.
I had never heard of Ahmed until I read this article, unfortunately I had heard of Vine. Your grasp of the struggle of the Grunwick and Ford workers is spot on.
Grunwick and Dagenham have been used by many leftist groups for their own selfish purposes. I remember seeing the sad empty Ford site about ten years ago the left nowhere to be seen or heard.
The BBC a couple of years ago had a documentary ( docudrama !) on the Grunwick strike.. ‘led by an Asian woman’ to show the women of colour were fighting and winning back then… quite frankly the BBC were talking cobblers, it was as true a portrayal of the facts as Dr Who or BBC news at six.
The presenter of the ‘Grunwick strike’ also used it as a platform to tell us that Britain was a ‘racist country in the seventies’, it can’t be both can it?
I complained to the BBC about that programme and they responded to me by telling me that I misunderstood what she had said. Upon my quoting more specifically what she had said in further correspondence, they then changed their defence of what she had said to , ‘most people understood what she meant by Britain being a racist country in the seventies’.
The BBC has hopefully come to the end of its usefulness.

Ven Oods

22nd January 2020 at 10:56 am

If ever there was an argument that the BBC should be cut adrift and find its own funding in the real world, then the likely effect of these obscene payouts (not to mention Vine’s £3k per appearance) would surely be it.
The many strata of management types with indecipherable job titles would be unlikely to survive having to find non-compulsory funding.

Mark Williams

21st January 2020 at 11:45 pm

And, of course, men pay more taxes because we freely select jobs that pay well, work more hours, work in jobs that scale, do more overtime, do all the dangerous jobs that women refuse to do, etc. etc. etc. The irony is that the very reasons that the “pay gap” exists mean she’s taken this money — through the force of the government — from more men than women.

michael savell

21st January 2020 at 10:58 pm

Judge was a woman,her lawyer was a woman.I know it is only one of her points but”it is likely that Jeremy Vine spends less time in make up than I do”,that’s one of them.I bet none of them would be earning or applying even for the gross sums they do if make up had not been invented or,all of a sudden doctors came out to say that make up was worse than smoking.Perhaps if the rumour goes round all will be convinced.Since we can expect more and more of these claims I hate to think what the licence fee will be next year.

Danny Rees

21st January 2020 at 10:42 pm

Rich celebs paid less than other rich celebs.

My heart bleeds.

More feminists outraged over rich women not being paid as much as rich men than women being stoned to death in the middle east, or women here in Britain suffering welfare sanctions leaving them and their children in poverty.

Middle class feminism is an offence to the ears and eyes.

Michael Lynch

22nd January 2020 at 10:26 am

Spot on, Danny.

James Knight

21st January 2020 at 7:05 pm

This will open the floodgates of entitlement culture. The problem is the equality act seems to enshrine a presumption of discrimination and the employer is expected to prove a negative.

The irony is if this was a man he would have had no chance to make such a claim. Apparently she was paid the same as her male predecessor.

Neil McCaughan

21st January 2020 at 5:40 pm

It would be helpful if in future the name and address of the utterly incompetent, and presumably biased, judge was reported.

There’s hardly a day goes by without some judicial moron making of a fool of itself – and us – in order to curry favour with the Mrs Grundys of Islington. In fact they vie with each other in their ostentatious corruption and stupidity.

Time for a wholesale clearout of the idiot legal trade.

Ven Oods

22nd January 2020 at 10:59 am

Publishing folks’ names and addresses is a bit KGB/Stasi, isn’t it? Better just to contribute to the backlash against all this wokery once it begins.

jessica christon

21st January 2020 at 5:39 pm

Another nail in the coffin of the licence fee. Good.

Gary Lineker

21st January 2020 at 4:38 pm

My namesake demands quite a big purse for his presenting skills, surely a judgement such as this means that if not all presenters, presenters that do a similar job to he, are due a big pay rise. If that is not the case, why is it not? I mean male or female they all present football or sports related programming, why should one presenter earn significantly more than any other one doing the same job?

This surely endangers the very existence of the BBC, while ITV sign up Ant & Dec for 40 million quid, they do not have to pay a commensurate wage to Holly Willoughby or someone of similar ilk. The Lineker’s of this world can demand big salaries from the likes of SKY and BT who in turn set the market rate for a top level sports presenter. The BBC then have to match that wage in order to entice top of the range sports presenters like Mr Lineker, the BBC actually pays Lineker at that rate, so then surely Mark Chapman, Gabby Logan etc should be filing law suits as I type, they should take the BBC to the cleaners. If the BBC is not free to judge on the basis of a persons presenting skills, as in do they have charisma? A likeable personality? Are they engaging? etc, then how can they possibly maintain any standards in their output.

This is such a decadent payout it is beyond belief that the public purse is what will fund any of the compensation allotted in these cases. Surely there must be a limit put on what one can complain about wage wise, if you are in a 40 grand plus a year job, then by rights you should have little in way of complaint, and if you do, there should be a simple method of getting your just recompense. Go to your employer and ask for a pay rise, if you are good enough you will get it, if you are not then you will not, if you think your employer under values you, go in to the marketplace and tout your wares, if you are as good as you think you are somebody will 100% snap you up, it’s that simple.

Ven Oods

22nd January 2020 at 11:02 am

I quite often comment volubly on the comments of the commentators. Why is my contribution going unpaid? (OK, as a non-internet-based ‘influencer’, my reach is somewhat limited, but so is Ahmed’s, and it did her no harm.)

Jonnie Henly

21st January 2020 at 4:34 pm

The principle of equal pay is one that applies at all levels of employment. It doesn’t become void because of whatever particular circumstances surround that profession.

Getting all huffy and outraged at someone defending this principle is not any sort of appropriate response. Save your outrage for where it is really merited.

Gary Lineker

21st January 2020 at 5:49 pm

Performance can be critiqued, whether it is news reading or boxing surely the rewards are meted on the basis of the relative merits of that performance which are always going to be subjective in terms of how entertaining or how much value one would place in each separate instance.

There is a reason certain actors garner a bigger wage than others, same with musicians, there is a reason why Lionel Messi earns more than many other professionals who ply the same trade. Market value is determined by many factors, in this case it could well be ratings, as in the audience that watch this presenter versus say Jeremy Vine whose audience is 8 times the size, or it could be that one person has much less charisma than the other, if you have the ability as a presenter you will make it to the top of the presenting game as charisma and personality is what production companies lap up, personality is the catalyst for bigger more audience and bigger pay cheques all round, no one in these set ups is looking to oppress somebody for having too much charisma, you are so good were gonna keep you restricted on some crappy program nobody watches.

‘The principle of equal pay is one that applies at all levels of employment.’

What is that principle, if i am working at tesco stacking the shelves then yes the principle applies that my fellow shelf stacker will be paid the same as me. If im working at tesco as a CEO of some type and have been head hunted from somewhere else in the marketplace, then does that mean the person who that CEO replaces is due a payout so that they have received commensurate wages to either their replacement and or predecessor? This is communism by any other name and it stinks.

Danny Rees

21st January 2020 at 10:38 pm

Your name sake is the one true world class striker England have had in my lifetime.

Jonnie Henly

21st January 2020 at 11:06 pm

The principle of equal pay between the sexes for the same work.
That still allows for differencing levels of pay when it is linked to performance. Because differing performance mean the work is not the same and thus the pay shouldn’t be either.

steve moxon

22nd January 2020 at 11:23 am

Absurd non-argument.
There is no comparison in something as personal as broadcast media presentation, as is seen in viewing figures differentiating between good and poor presenters.
The person is the thing here, not the role.
It would be ridiculous to pay an unknown actor in a low-budget film the same as a famous lead actor in a multi-million pound blockbuster. The role is the same, but that is anything but the point.
The Boob should easily win an appeal.

botalap botalap

21st January 2020 at 4:27 pm

Make $125 per hour with your phone or laptop:

jan mozelewski

22nd January 2020 at 2:11 pm

I hope and trust you offer equal pay for both sexes….irrespective of the number of viewers.

Linda Payne

21st January 2020 at 4:18 pm

Funny thing equality, this BBC presenter has her salary hiked up on the basis that she should earn as much as a (famous) male presenter, yet when it comes to women’s pensions, many are having to work an extra six years to match up the retirement age of men

Jerry Owen

22nd January 2020 at 9:32 am

Women pay the same amount of years worth of class two contributions for their state pension as men do, I believe it is around 32 years for both sexes. Retirement being set at 67 for both sexes. We do actually have equality in that department now, but I bet the feminists aren’t happy.. a situation they helped bring about themselves ironically.

Dominic Straiton

21st January 2020 at 3:54 pm

Lets just get rid of this malign organisation and let them sink or swim in the sunlight of competition of the market. They might do really well. Unlikely.

Gary Lineker

21st January 2020 at 3:53 pm

Quite pertinent in this particular case is the fact that her predecessor who happened to be male was paid the exact same wage as Ahmed. Unfortunately he was not due a payout, perhaps if he takes the BBC to court he can expect a lump sum too…or maybe not.

Billie Watcher

21st January 2020 at 3:32 pm

The level of self-entitlement and delusion here is nauseating. It wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t come out of taxpayers’ money.

Danny Rees

21st January 2020 at 3:24 pm

Fuck’s sake we the licence fee have got to pay for this.

As a Leftist I am appalled at other leftists celebrating rich TV presenters getting richer by crying “sexism”.

Abolish the licence fee.

Jerry Owen

22nd January 2020 at 9:33 am

Maybe you should realign your political compass !

Claire D

21st January 2020 at 2:59 pm

I’m guessing the judges on these cases are Diversity and Community Relations Judges, or DCRJs for short, like the one on the Maya Forstater tribunal. If the BBC’s expensive lawyers could not argue effectively on the BBC’s behalf, where does that leave the rest of us in a case where Diversity has to be seen to triumph ?
I’m afraid the Diversity agenda is going to steam roll onwards for now, but if Samira Ahmed and her colleagues think they are going to go down in history as heroines alongside the likes of the Dagenham women, they won’t, there is already far too much dissent from the general public for that to happen.

Geoff Cox

21st January 2020 at 2:44 pm

The answer of course – blindingly obvious to all those outside the media bubble – is to pay Jeremy Vine less. As my Dad used to say, no presenter on the BBC should be paid anything at all as their “celebrity” will bring in plenty of cash outside the BBC.

Danny Rees

21st January 2020 at 3:24 pm

Pay them all less.

Gary Lineker

21st January 2020 at 4:45 pm

If they’re to be paid at the market rate, which is dictated by private enterprises that are subscription based or rely on revenue from advertising such as SKY, ITV, BT, Netflix etc then surely the BBC should not be publicly funded. Make it a subscription based model, the public should not be held to ransom by this type of folly. It is genuinely outrageous.

jan mozelewski

22nd January 2020 at 2:08 pm

Tell me, Gary, at you current rate-per-word, how much would you charge for reading that out?

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to comment. Log in or Register now.