Friday, 3 May 2013

British Bullying Corporation

Let us be clear. The BBC is funded to a large extent by us, the license payer. Admittedly they do sell programmes around the world and sell advertising on their world tv station. The seed-corn from the license fee which underpins so much of what they do comes from us.

In that context it is quite appalling what was revealed yesterday in the Dinah Rose Review report. The review was set up in the light of the Jimmy Saville revelations. It does not make pleasant reading. The fact that this report emerged on the same day that the news about Stuart Hall broke left the revelations somewhat overshadowed.

In sum, sexual harassment at the corporation is an issue but not as big an issue as bullying which was described by several contributors as ‘institutional.’ In particular, there is a perception among many of the BBC’s employees that those known as ‘the talent’ are considered untouchable. There are also managers who are known bullies who are not only still in post but have actually been promoted.

“A total of 35 people were involved in 37 cases of alleged sexual harassment at the BBC over the past six years, according to the Rose review. Two individuals were dismissed, while a third received a written warning. More than two-thirds of the cases resulted in the perpetrator receiving a final warning or their contract terminated.

In a "very small" number of examples, the alleged offender had gone on to be promoted despite having a sexual harassment complaint upheld against them – while in "only a few cases" the alleged perpetrator had been suspended or redeployed to another part of the BBC after the complaint.

The report said concerns about bullying and "other forms of inappropriate behaviour" were "much more prominent". "Often this behaviour appears to go unchallenged by senior managers," it said. "Some individuals are seen as being 'untouchable' due to their perceived value to the BBC."
But broadcasting unions criticised the corporation, attacking the "toxic" problem of bullying and harassment at the BBC. "It is quite clear that bullying has become an institutionalised problem at the BBC, one that has taken hold over many years," said Michelle Stanistreet, the general secretary of the National Union of Journalists.
"Our submission [to the BBC inquiry] was eye watering stuff – people have been bullied because of their sexuality, or their race; women have been subjected to the most awful sexism; journalists have been openly attacked about their age and there are many others whose lives have been made unbearable for no discernible reason, people have been picked off simply because their face doesn't seem to fit."
The NUJ submitted more than 70 pieces of testimony to the Rose review, including multiple accusations of bullying against a single senior executive who was named in a collective complaint by more than 20 people. 

Gerry Morrissey, general secretary of the BBC's biggest union, Bectu, said bullying affected "several hundred" people at the broadcaster with complaints made daily to his representatives. "It is not physical intimidation, it is people who lose their temper, are shouting, the impact on people can be demeaning and humiliating," he said.” Guardian 3/5/13

Having worked in an institution where bullying by a small number of managers was allowed to go unchecked, the comments about people losing their temper, shouting at and humiliating staff, rang a lot of bells.  The effect on a large institution is pernicious. Most people prefer a quiet life and do not want to put their head above the parapet. To watch the few who are prepared to do so get shouted at or belittled for expressing genuine concerns has a deleterious effect on the watchers. Contributions to meetings become guarded and ‘safe.’ Alternative thinking rarely happens. People become very defensive. For some, week-ends were a welcome break, but all too soon Sunday night would herald another Monday morning. A colleague would wince when he saw a particular car in the car park knowing that at some point there was a good chance that he would be subjected to a tirade.

What should have been a vibrant happy workplace, full of creativity and energy, became a place where getting by and not being noticed was the norm. Expressions such as ‘tin hat day’ were shorthand for staff to be particularly careful. To work in such an atmosphere is soul-destroying. For those who were on the receiving end it was bad enough. For those who colluded, it was also very bad as they had to live with the compromises and consequences of their inaction.

For senior managers to ignore, collude with or even perpetrate bullying is awful. These are very highly paid executives at the BBC. 

In the light of all the recent revelations they are not earning their money.

There needs to be a cull of anyone at the beeb who has either bullied, or colluded with bullying. They should be sacked forthwith. 

The BBC should be a shining example of creativity and best practice. It has a long long way to go to get back its reputation. There are many sharks circling who would dearly love for it to be broken up and sold off.

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