Kate Chisholm

Lessons from Rwanda

Plus: a delicious, winsome Penelope Fitzgerald adaptation on Radio 4

What an incredible statement we heard on My Perfect Country. ‘I can walk into a boardroom and forget I am a woman,’ pronounced Isabelle Masozera, a PR executive, on the World Service programme, which this week visited Rwanda to find out what is happening there to make it qualify for ‘my perfect country’ status. Her words hit home because of the BBC’s current difficulties over equal pay and opportunities.

It appears that the corporation has been less than speedy or judicious in its response to the revelations last year about the substantial differences in earnings between some of its male and female employees. Badly handled, it led to the bizarre situation on Radio 4’s flagship Today programme on Monday morning when one of its presenters, Carrie Gracie, was also one of the top stories of the day.

She had just resigned from her job as the BBC’s bureau chief in China, claiming in a letter addressed to licence-payers, which was gleefully blazoned across several newspapers, that her erstwhile employer ‘is breaking equality law and resisting pressure for a fair and transparent pay structure’. Gracie couldn’t be interviewed by her co-presenter John Humphrys (who you could tell was itching to take on the task) because this would have broken the BBC’s strict rules on impartiality, although she was later heard on Woman’s Hour explaining her position. Does this muddle matter?

Yes. Because as a taxpayer-funded organisation the BBC is incredibly privileged as a broadcaster, free from commercial pressures. To respect that privilege it should ensure that it not only manages its finances with scrupulous integrity and transparency but also behaves as a model organisation, leading the way on equality of pay and opportunity between all employees. There are too many overpaid people at the Beeb (they must know who they are) and at the same time too many who would earn a lot more if they chose to move into the commercial world.

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