BBC 'deliberately chose not to call key witnesses' in Samira pay dispute case

Friday 08th November 2019 06:50 EST

The BBC deliberately chose not to call key witnesses who could explain the pay difference between Jeremy Vine and Samira Ahmed, an employment tribunal has heard. In her closing submissions, Claire Darwin, advocating Samira in her equal pay claim, said that it was telling that the BBC failed to call key witnesses, such as Emma Trevelyan, a senior commercial, rights and business affairs manager, and Paul Luke, the head of business affairs, who were involved in contract negotiations, and Natasha Wojciechowski, who was the BBC’s HR director until recently.

Samira launched an equal pay case last month, and sued the public broadcaster for £6,93,245 in lost earnings, claiming that she was paid 85% less than her male equivalent as a BBC presenter. Samira states she was paid £440 an episode for presenting Newswatch since 2012, at a time when Vine, her male counterpart at the BBC, was initially paid £3,000 an episode for presenting Points of View. The public broadcaster had called in BBC executives who were not involved in agreeing to Samira's fee for Newswatch in 2012 or the fees agreed for Vine for Points of View in 2008, the tribunal was told. “Cases are won on their facts … it’s extraordinary, madam, that the BBC has deliberately chosen not to call witnesses of fact in relation on the very narrow issue that you need to decide,” Darwin argued.

The BBC, justifying Samira's lower remuneration than Vine said that it was because of the differences between news and entertainment shows. The BBC argued that Newswatch is a news show, which requires different presenter appeal to Points of View, which is an entertainment programme. Julian Milford, representing the BBC, dismissed Darwin’s claim and said the judge had heard from Roger Leatham, now director of business affairs for BBC Studios, who negotiated the overarching deal with Vine. Milford added that it was “totally far-fetched” to suggest the BBC did not call any of the individuals who were involved in the negotiations.

Earlier, Simon Miller, the series producer for Points of View, said that as a presenter Vine had a “glint in his eye”, and in his witness statement he said the show had always been a bit “cheeky” and was able to deal with issues in a lighthearted way. The BBC was accused of providing unreliable evidence at the employment tribunal, or evidence that ordinarily would be inadmissible in court proceedings. Darwin stated Leatham had essentially copy pasted large chunks of Vine’s Wikipedia page into his witness statement. She also claimed that Leatham’s evidence was based on speculation because he was not involved in pay negotiations, but had approved one fee in 2012. Leatham on the same day admitted he had not heard of Samira before the tribunal.

In the closing statement, the broadcaster described Leatham as an “impressive witness”, who was knowledgeable about negotiations with talent, the factors taken into account in those negotiations and how they work.

Darwin argued that the BBC’s witnesses exaggerated their evidence to fit the corporation’s defence. She pointed to Miller’s evidence that Vine would “often dress up” when in fact he could only recollect two examples of this (one wig, and one hat). She also accused the BBC’s witnesses of giving evidence to the tribunal about matters that “they had little knowledge of”, stating that Leatham spoke about Samira’s skill and experience, without making clear until the end of his evidence that he had never met Samira and had little knowledge of her.

Samira’s legal team had dismissed the BBC’s assertion that Points of View was an iconic brand, stating there has been no evidence from any of the witnesses to prove this claim. “Indeed, this is a programme with ailing viewing figures that the BBC was actively considering scrapping or putting online, and which had to be filmed in the corridors of the BBC rather than in a studio,” Darwin said.

Darwin told the employment tribunal the public broadcaster had failed to recognise it has an equal pay problem, criticising what she described as the BBC’s mantra of fair pay, describing it “a legal nonsense”. Darwin also compared the pay between Samira and Ray Snoddy, the former presenter of Newswatch, and said: “The claimant [Samira] had a large public profile, greater broadcasting experience and a higher market rate than Ray Snoddy and yet not only was her programme rate exactly the same as his, he was contractually entitled to repeat fees and she was not.” The tribunal chair said a judgment was likely early next year or possibly before Christmas.

comments powered by Disqus

to the free, weekly Asian Voice email newsletter