back to top

The Former BBC China Editor Just Accused The Top BBC News Chiefs Of Not Telling The Truth

In a scathing, and often deeply personal, evidence session about gender pay at the broadcaster, Carrie Gracie asked, "If the BBC doesn't report the truth, how can its journalists?"

Posted on

Carrie Gracie – the former BBC China editor who resigned over claims the broadcaster had been running an illegal pay culture – has called out BBC News chief Fran Unsworth and her predecessor, James Harding, for allegedly telling lies about the organisation's record on paying women.

In an extraordinary appearance before the Commons select committee on Wednesday, Gracie named both Unsworth and Harding in her recounting of notable incidents in her struggle to achieve equal pay with her male colleagues over the past year.

Responding to a question about whether she felt BBC management had been briefing against her to members of the media during her struggle to achieve equal pay, Gracie said a former BBC journalist had told her about speaking to Unsworth last year in the wake of the organisation's top salaries being revealed.

"(The journalist) was at an alumni event, the day after the pay disclosures, and he told me that he had asked [Unsworth] why myself and the Europe editor [Katya Adler] were not on the high pay list," Gracie said.

"And he said that Fran’s answer was that I was part-time."

Gracie told the committee that as China editor she didn't work part-time, and so later confronted Unsworth about what she'd allegedly said.

"She says it’s a misunderstanding," Gracie said. "But I would say as the senior woman in BBC News ... I would expect the most senior woman in BBC News to stand up for her senior women journalists."

In the next session, Unsworth faced a grilling from the MPs, while sitting alongside the BBC's chairman Sir David Clementi and BBC director general Tony Hall. Gracie sat between her two children in the public gallery, and took detailed notes while listening to the BBC management's evidence.

Unsworth called the alleged "briefing" against Gracie as a "mischaracterisation" of a private conversation, which she's apologised for.

"I was trying to explain as part of a private conversation, (the journalist) mentioned the names Carrie and Katya and other people who weren’t on it," Unsworth said. "I was trying to explain in general terms what the actual money that people had earned from the BBC, about whether they did one shift a week, or five shifts a week."

"I never said that Carrie was part time, I never would have done.

"I have apologised to her."

Last year, Gracie, a 30-year BBC veteran, launched a "grievance process" against the BBC after finding out she was being paid significantly less than the broadcaster's male North America and Middle East editors.

During Wednesday's hearing, she accused BBC management of making significant errors in an internal report on her pay: "I got my grievance notes ... they were an absolutely disgraceful nine pages of errors and spin."

She added: "If the BBC doesn't report the truth, how can its journalists?"

In her two-hour evidence session, Gracie also said Unsworth's predecessor as BBC News director James Harding had also been not telling the truth in public late last year.

"I heard the then-director of news on a BBC programme say we don’t have an equal pay problem at the BBC," she said. "I just thought, no, that’s not what BBC journalists do, they tell the truth.

"And that’s our director of news."

According to Gracie, the BBC last week offered her £45,000 of backpay, in a signal the broadcaster was acknowledging it was underpaying her for years. She has rejected the money.

“The thing that is very unacceptable to me is they have basically said in the previous years 2014, 2015, 2016, I was in development.”

In the final minutes of the session, Tory MP Julian Knight asked whether BBC chairman Sir David Clementi would apologise to Gracie on behalf of the board.

Clementi turned in his chair, addressing Gracie: "It’s clear within the grievance we made a number of errors. I apologise to her that it happened."

Mark Di Stefano is a media and politics correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Mark Di Stefano at

Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.