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BBC ‘deliberately failed to call key witnesses’ in Samira Ahmed dispute

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BBC BBC 'deliberately failed to call key witnesses' in Samira Ahmed dispute

Equal pay tribunal hears that witnesses involved in initial contracts were ‘tellingly’ not called

Samira Ahmed arrives at the Central London Employment Tribunal. Photograph: Aaron Chown/PA

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.

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Claire Darwin, representing Ahmed, who is suing the public broadcaster for £693,245 in lost earnings over claims of unequal pay, said in her closing submissions 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.

Ahmed launched a landmark equal pay case last month, claiming she was paid 85% less than her male equivalent as a BBC presenter. Ahmed states she was paid £440 an episode for presenting Newswatch since 2012, at a time when Vine, her male equivalent at the BBC, was initially paid £3,000 an episode for presenting Points of View.

The tribunal heard that the public broadcaster had called in BBC executives who were not involved in agreeing Ahmed’s fee for Newswatch in 2012 or the fees agreed for Vine for Points of View in 2008. Darwin told the judge: “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”.

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.

The BBC has said it was justified in paying Ahmed less than Vine because of the differences between news and entertainment shows. The BBC has argued that Newswatch is a news show, which requires different presenter appeal to Points of View, which is an entertainment programme.

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On Tuesday, 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 cut and 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. On Tuesday, Leatham admitted he had not heard of Ahmed before the tribunal.

In the BBC’s 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 Ahmed’s skill and experience, without making clear until the end of his evidence that he had never met Ahmed and had little knowledge of her.

Ahmed’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 Ahmed and Ray Snoddy, the former presenter of Newswatch, and said: “The claimant [Ahmed] 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.

Topics

  • BBC
  • Equal pay
  • news
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