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Saturday, 2 November 2019

BBC Data Breach in Samira Ahmed Employment Tribunal

The BBC has been accused of breaching data protection rules by revealing the names of 120 female employees who have pursued gender pay complaints.

The leak came to light during an Employment Tribunal claim against the BBC by Newswatch presenter Samira Ahmed.

Ahmed is claiming £693,000 in back pay for an alleged breach of equal pay legislation by the BBC in a case supported by the National Union of Journalists.

Ahmed's lawyers argue that the fee she receives for presenting Newswatch, rumoured to be less than £500 per programme, is dwarfed by the amount Jeremy Vine received for each Points Of View programme, rumoured to be in the region of £3,000.

In her written submission to the Tribunal, Ahmed claimed to put in more hours than her male counterpart. She also said her role was more demanding, because she often wrote her own scripts, whereas Vine's were written for him.

In addition, she said: "It is likely that Jeremy Vine spends less time in make-up than I do. Women are more likely to be criticised for their appearance on air."

Ahmed also suggested that Vine had an unfair advantage at the BBC, because he was male.

"I was struck by how Jeremy Vine was gifted the Radio 2 lunchtime show as a successor to Jimmy Young in 2003," she said.

"That was a controversial appointment at the time and led to many complaints. Prior to that he had been a news journalist with no experience or profile as an entertainment star.

"BBC stuck by him and he was eventually cemented in the role. Women are not gifted these opportunities."

The BBC vehemently denies that Ahmed was paid unfairly, claiming the variation in remuneration reflects the very different natures of the Newswatch and Points Of View programmes.

Back to the latest data breach, which came about when the BBC inadvertently disclosed a letter bearing the names of 120 dissatisfied employees claiming unfair gender pay.

The vast majority of the names have not previously been publicly linked to pay disputes with the BBC. The document was made available in unredacted form to members of the public and journalists during Ahmed's hearing as part of the bundles of supporting evidence.

The BBC denied responsibility for the leak.

"This list was part of the evidence that the NUJ put before the tribunal, not the BBC," he said.

On Thursday the BBC sent an email to staff to forewarn them that confidential information about their complaints and salaries had been disclosed to journalists.

The email read: "Although this was not the BBC's evidence we have made clear to newspapers that we believe the names contained in the letter were not directly relevant to the case – however, they may choose to publish this information anyway and we thought you should know."

Thompsons solicitors, which is representing Ahmed, has now written to news outlets asking them to hold back from publishing the names of the 120 women: "Whilst the names of the individuals may be in the public domain due to the BBC revealing them within the court bundle it would be a breach of their privacy to make approaches to them when they are not parties to the action and have not given their consent for their names to be released in this way."

They also put pressure on the broadcaster to support the members of staff who may be affected: "We expect the BBC as the employer of the individuals named to take action to support any employees whose privacy is breached without their consent."

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