As It Happens

Former correspondent describes a culture of 'friendly stonewalling' at the BBC over issue of pay gap

Eleanor Bradford is telling her story after Carrie Gracie, the former BBC China Editor, quit in protest of pay inequality.
Eleanor Bradford in 2016, when she was still a health correspondent at BBC Scotland. (Submitted by Eleanor Bradford)

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When former BBC China Editor Carrie Gracie spoke in the British Parliament on Wednesday on the issue of the gender pay gap, Eleanor Bradford was watching. 

"I thought Carrie was magnificent," Bradford, a former BBC Scotland health correspondent who left in part over the pay gap, told As It Happens guest host Helen Mann. 

Gracie, 55, who has worked at the BBC for over 30 years, quit her position as BBC's China Editor last month and released an open letter where she said two of her male colleagues earned at least 50 per cent more than her —  U.S. editor Jon Sopel and Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen. She said the BBC told her the reasoning was because she was "in development". 

Gracie is still employed by the BBC in London. 

On Wednesday, she appeared before British lawmakers to detail, over two hours, the circumstances that led to her departure. Tony Hall, the BBC's director general, denied any gender discrimination during this testimony.

A review published by the the BBC on Tuesday also found "no gender bias in on-air pay decisions." 

Since Gracie resigned as China Editor, a group of 170 women at the BBC have called for an apology and back pay over claims the corporation broke equality laws. 

Bradford was one of the only women to publicly give written testimony for the questioning of Hall about the pay gap. She spoke with Mann about what prompted her, in part, to leave the BBC Scotland in 2016. 

BBC's China editor Carrie Gracie speaks to the media outside BBC Broadcasting House in London. ( Dominic Lipinski/Associated Press)

Ms. Bradford, what is it like to hear Carrie Gracie speak so forcefully against the BBC in British Parliament?

I thought Carrie was magnificent. She has clearly been through the mill. I would say that I don't feel as angry as Carrie because I haven't sacrificed as much as she has. In order to be a correspondent at her level she really wouldn't have seen her family very much. 

In my case, although I did sacrifice a lot for the BBC — including my partner giving up his job because my job was so unpredictable he needed to stay at home to look after the children — but I was met with friendly stonewalling, I would describe it as. I wasn't bullied, I wasn't harassed when I asked for equal pay. But neither did any of the management really deal with my complaint properly and even when they did admit that I was underpaid, they didn't offer me any back pay. 

In this image made from screengrab, BBC director-general Tony Hall gives evidence to a committee of MPs. Carrie Gracie, the broadcaster's former China editor, says BBC managers have treated women who speak out about pay "as some sort of enemy." (PA via Associated Press)

Carrie Gracie said that her bosses justified the lower pay because they said she is "in development". You've already indicated she had a very senior position. Does that make any sense to you, given the job she held?

It's clearly ridiculous. I mean she wasn't someone who was in development. She was one of the only people who spoke Mandarin. She worked in China, she had a Chinese degree. There was simply no one else for that position.

In my situation, the frustration was that the men who were doing exactly the same job as me had a different job title, which was editor. Which you would think meant a different level of responsibly. You would think they had staff working for them or had more managerial responsibilities. But in actual fact we all did exactly the same. And I actually measured and made sure that we had the same number of stories on air and the same profile, and yet they were deemed worthy of this more senior title which allowed them to access a  higher pay balance.

Did they have any more experience as journalists?

One of them had been with the BBC longer and was... certainly more experienced than me. I don't know whether the pay difference was reflected in that or whether it was beyond that level of expertise.

The other one was appointed after me, and although he'd worked elsewhere he'd never broadcasted before.  

Eleanor Bradford describes "friendly stonewalling" when she would approach senior staff at the BBC about pay inequality. (Submitted by Eleanor Bradford)

So after Carrie Gracie quit her post, the BBC decided to commission a report to examine the issue of gender bias in pay. That came out yesterday. What did it determine?

Well that report found that whilst there were some discrepancies, it said that these could be explained because of different levels of experience, which I think really they clearly didn't look very hard.

The issue I have with that report is that it was a report that  was commissioned from accountants and paid for by the BBC, and anyone who knows anything about research will tell you that if an organization pays another organization to do a report on that then there's automatic bias there.

In this image made from screengrab, journalist Carrie Gracie appeared before British lawmakers to detail, over two hours, the circumstances that led to her departure. (PA via Associated Press)

Well and in fact Ms. Gracie and many of the other women who have come out to support her from the BBC seemed enraged by the findings of the report and the way it was handled. I mean, has it made the situation worse for the BBC and given these women more of a case?

I certainly think the BBC hasn't handled in glory particularly in the way it's reacted to Carrie's situation and briefing against her and suggesting she only worked 100 days a year. I mean that's absolutely outrageous.

I also think that the BBC is having to deal with this issue, which is a society issues. And if the pay packets of other organizations were laid bare we'd find a much bigger problem. But I still think that it should be the BBC that deals with this and maybe the BBC who has to deal with this first because its paid for by us, the public.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 


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