Head of BBC News Fran Unsworth has denied describing Carrie Gracie as “part-time”, saying: “I did the contract, I knew she wasn’t.”
The corporation’s former China editor, who resigned over equal pay, said it had been “very upsetting” to hear that a journalist from a Sunday newspaper had been told by “trusted sources at the BBC” that she was part-time.
Giving evidence to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) committee, Unsworth denied the claim and said there had been a “misunderstanding”.
She told MPs: “I never said Carrie was part-time, I never would have done.
“I wrote to Carrie back on November 15 and I have apologised to her if my language was loose which led to some kind of misunderstanding.
“I never would have said she was part-time. I did the contract, I knew she wasn’t.”
Referring to “misinformation appearing in sections of the media” recently, Gracie told MPs she was “also very upset in mid-November before my grievance hearing when a former member of staff told me that the current director of news, who is the most senior woman in BBC news, had given him the impression that I was part-time.
“He was at an alumni event that (Unsworth) was at the day after the pay disclosures, and he told me he had asked her why myself and the Europe editor were not on the high pay list, and he said, as reported by him, ‘I don’t understand why they’re not on the list, Carrie Gracie and Katya Adler work so hard, why wouldn’t they be on the list?’
“And he said that Fran’s answer was that I was part-time.”
Unsworth told the committee that she agreed for Gracie to be paid £130,000 which she said “was still more, in fact, than either the North America or the Europe editor were on” at the time.
“At the time that we set Carrie’s pay, in that role there was no issue around gender at all. Subsequently what happened, and I moved into a different job and there was a new head of news gathering, and then Jon Sopel was appointed to the job of North America editor, and Jon Sopel obviously came with a different pay history.
“He had been a BBC One presenter, he had been a presenter on World News, he was a former political editor of the news channel, he was a former Paris correspondent and he had accumulated a much higher salary than what Carrie was on at the time as presenter of the news channel.
“And we did not cut his pay going to North America, we felt he was the right person for the role. And this is when we see things get out of line, and this is where we should have addressed what the impact of appointing such a highly-paid person to all the other salaries we have.”
Unsworth gave evidence at the hearing alongside director-general Lord Tony Hall, chairman Sir David Clementi and deputy director-general Anne Bulford.