The BBC has banned journalists from presenting stories about the corporation's gender pay gap if they've publicly tweeted their support for the outgoing China editor Carrie Gracie's damaging allegations about the British broadcaster.
BuzzFeed News understands senior BBC editors met on Monday morning, and were told by management to enforce the existing BBC guidelines regarding impartiality around the story.
A source briefed on the discussions told BuzzFeed News: "The message was 'Anyone in any capacity who has tweeted about it, then those people cannot do equal pay stories.'"
The Labour MP Jess Philips said she would be writing to the BBC's director general about the move.
Gracie went public with sensational claims about the BBC's gender pay "crisis" in a 1,300-word resignation letter, first published on Sunday by BuzzFeed News.
Prominent BBC journalists, media figures, and politicians have flooded Twitter with messages of support for Gracie, who stood down as China editor and claimed the British broadcaster has been "breaking equality law" in the way it pays women.
More than 130 of Gracie's BBC colleagues also signed a statement of support and demanded urgent action from management.
A BBC spokesperson said the corporation was just reinforcing its pre-existing guidelines, which read: "We need to ensure the BBC's impartiality is not brought into question and presenters or reporters are not exposed to potential conflicts of interest."
A female BBC journalist told BuzzFeed News that employees had been left "furious" about the instructions on Monday.
"It’s a double standard," she said. "It smacks of censorship and feeds into the sense that the BBC is not interested in transparency, or conducting this debate in good faith.
"We understand we have to be impartial and there are limits [on] what we can speak out about, but this is about everyone at the organisation.
"Even if you're a man, you're affected [by] the way your female colleagues are being paid."
On Monday morning, Gracie had cohosted the BBC's agenda-setting Today programme, alongside one of the broadcaster's highest-paid journalists, John Humphrys.
Citing the BBC's impartiality guidelines, Humphrys said Gracie wasn't allowed to address the issues she raised in her letter on the programme. Instead Humphrys interviewed fellow BBC journalist Mariella Frostrup, while Gracie sat in silence nearby.
Frostrup addressed the elephant in the room, however, by taking a dig at Humphrys's salary of more than £600,000, which was revealed last year.
"Of course you can say it's difficult to quantify when it comes to celebrity status [of journalists] and what pay salaries are based on," Frostrup said.
"I can assure you that I am way down in the minimum, probably a tenth of what you earn."
Gracie then went on the BBC's Woman's Hour to talk about her blistering letter, but regular host Jane Garvey told listeners she wasn't allowed to interview Gracie, citing the BBC's impartiality guidelines.
"Because of BBC impartiality rules I can’t interview Carrie," Garvey said. "But Jane Martinson is a freelance journalist and a former woman’s editor and media editor at the Guardian, she’s in our radio car this morning and she is going to speak to Carrie Gracie."
After the interview, Garvey thanked Martinson and moved on to the next segment: "Impartiality does not stop me from discussing menopause on Woman’s Hour next."
But the actual application of these guidelines was raising questions by Monday afternoon after BBC TV host Simon McCoy interviewed employment lawyer Jennifer Millins about the Carrie Gracie story on the BBC News channel.
Like many of the corporation's most famous journalists, the BBC News anchor had unambiguously tweeted his support for Gracie earlier in the day.
BuzzFeed News understands BBC presenter Evan Davis will also be hosting Newsnight on Monday evening. It's unclear whether Davis, like BBC Woman's Hour host Jane Garvey, will be excluded from covering the BBC pay issue after he expressed his views in a nine-tweet Twitter thread.
Mark Di Stefano is a media and politics correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Mark Di Stefano at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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