Libby Purves: Cost of gender pay disputes at BBC will choke creativity

By Tom Horton, PA

Broadcaster Libby Purves has said the cost of gender pay disputes at the BBC “chokes creativity” and will harm the quality of the broadcaster’s output.

Writing in the Radio Times magazine, the former Radio 4 presenter added that Samira Ahmed, who won a sex discrimination equal pay claim against the BBC, should not necessarily have been paid as much as her male colleague.

She said that while there has been “an injustice towards women” at the corporation, she does not think that big payouts to female staff are a good solution to the problem.

Libby Purves called Samira Ahmed ‘admirable’ (Aaron Chown/PA)

Purves said: “There are another hundred women with claims: zeros multiply before the terrified eyes of BBC accountants.

“Thousands upon thousands of licence fees: programme-making money, news and fun and wisdom money, will go up in smoke.

“It may be virtuous feminist smoke, but it still chokes creativity.”

She added that the ruling that Ahmed was entitled to the same amount of pay as Jeremy Vine “raises an eyebrow”.

The BBC had argued that Vine needed to have a “glint in the eye” and to be “cheeky” in his presenting style, however the tribunal ruling questioned whether this required any skill on his part as he read from an autocue during filming.

Purves praised the presenting of Vine (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

Purves said: “Who could help giggling at the judges’ withering remarks after the BBC claimed there was a monetisable comedy glint in the former Africa correspondent’s eye?

“But the bald fact is that in public entertainment, ocular glintiness always was gold dust.

“And, admirable as she is, Ms Ahmed has less of it.

“The real kicker in all this is her claim for £700,000 in back pay, on the principle either that she’s just as glinty as Vine, or that glints don’t matter.”

Ahmed has previously said that equal pay is “about fairness and men and women as allies”.

Libby Purves’ comments are published in Radio Times (Radio Times/PA)

Purves added that although she “knew perfectly well for years” that she was paid less than some of her male colleagues, she “couldn’t bother complaining” because she liked the job.

On Monday, the BBC’s director-general Lord Tony Hall announced that he would be stepping down from his role.

His departure came amid a turbulent time for the broadcaster following a string of controversies around gender pay disputes.

Read the full interview in this week’s Radio Times.