Ian Burrell: The only transparency at the BBC is in the Pit
The BBC, we learned last week, was an organisation crawling with more sexual predators than we had previously thought. It was also, said an official report, a place gripped by an "undercurrent of fear", where bullied staff were afraid to speak out because they did not trust their managers.
For generations of university graduates in disciplines from literature and politics to science, a job at the BBC has been something to covet. It seems extraordinary that it could have turned rotten. How bad can it be, in a tough employment market, to be working for the greatest broadcaster in the world?
As licence-fee payers we all have a stake in ensuring that the BBC provides an environment where the highest quality programmes can be made. A culture of bullying and intimidation gets in the way of that process and means we are not getting value for our £145.50 a year. And we certainly do not want our money spent on the wages of the likes of Stuart Hall.
"Beast of the BBC" was the front page headline of Friday's Daily Mirror, following the presenter's admission that he abused 13 girls, one of them aged nine, at the height of his broadcasting career. Former colleagues now say he was habitually allowed to take young women into a medical room at the BBC.
So the Jimmy Savile scandal was no one-off. Other former BBC employees are on bail as Scotland Yard's Operation Yewtree continues probing historic allegations of sex abuse. This is not what the new director-general Tony Hall needs – the Savile saga was supposed to have been dealt with by the time he started work last month.
On Thursday, the BBC released the findings of a review headed by the barrister Dinah Rose QC designed to evaluate the current extent of bullying and sexual harassment in the organisation. The report spoke of "untouchable" BBC stars. "There is a perception that 'talent' are treated differently and don't have to adhere to the same rules because they wield power."
Staff were portrayed as being cowed by bullies. "Throughout our conversations we heard a strong undercurrent of fear; fear of speaking out, fear of reprisal, fear of losing your job, being made redundant, fear of becoming a victim…"
Working at the BBC is not mining coal. New Broadcasting House (NBH) is not an accident & emergency department. Indeed, within the cash-strapped media sector, the state-of the-art NBH is a £1bn glistening beacon of investment. BBC journalists have the most hi-tech newsroom in Europe. They can hold meetings in fashionably-designed booths and "huddle zones". For radio staff there is even a table football game to replicate the laid-back atmosphere you might find in an internet start-up.
I suspect some BBC managers rolled their eyes at the tales of misery that emerged in the Rose review. The BBC, we know, is brimming with highly intelligent and talented people, not all of whom can fully realise their ambitions. One manager told the inquiry of a brooding atmosphere of "quiet rioting" among staff. "There is often resistance, mistrust, abuse, rudeness and very defensive behaviour from those they manage," said the report. Some of those who have never worked outside the BBC might not realise how lucky they are.
But the unhappiness is real. The Rose review was based on the responses of 930 people who stepped forward to talk about harassment.
Symbolically, Liz MacKean, the Newsnight investigative journalist who worked so hard in vain to expose Savile, left the BBC last week. In a farewell tweet she wrote: "Set little store by dreams, but woke up dreaming I was driving at a wall unable to swerve. Last day at BBC! Sure it's a coincidence."
The glass-lined newsroom, shown at the start of every bulletin, isn't to the taste of all BBC journalists. They call it "The Pit". It is overlooked by a huge public gallery – designed to represent the BBC's transparency and special relationship with us licence fee payers. During one edition of the BBC News at One last month an inadvertent camera shot caught a tour party gawping down on the journalists below.
It is effectively a giant television set and the BBC deploys staff wearing headphones and monitoring the output. "They're shouting 'sit down', 'stop yawning' or 'put that sandwich down'," I am told.
Last month, a newsroom journalist was taken ill while the BBC News Channel was on air. Colleagues, who feared he was having a heart attack, called 999 and a paramedic arrived. Staff claim the medic was not allowed into the newsroom by BBC security – in case he walked into camera shot. BBC management denies this, saying the journalist recovered sufficiently quickly to be treated in the reception area.
The dispute reflects ongoing tensions. Of course, the BBC must implement painful budget cuts. But this organisation is not subject to the economic pressures faced by commercial media and its annual income is guaranteed. It shouldn't be like this.
We pay our licence fee for the content the BBC broadcasts – not to visit a public gallery and watch the staff going for each other's throats in the Pit.
A new example of meritocracy by the Middletons
Lord McAlpine, after being shamefully traduced by a combination of Newsnight innuendo and Twitter smears last autumn, returns to the media spotlight with an authored piece in Tatler, a homage to Margaret Thatcher. She was no snob, he informs the toff's bible, "merit, for her, was the only criterion."
The same magazine also carries a fawning tribute to "Mother of the Year" Carole Middleton, below, the woman who gave birth to the Queen-in-waiting and who "patently has a gift for brilliant parenting".
Yet Mrs Middleton's parenting seems to have gone awry, according to former Tatler editor Catherine Ostler, writing in the Daily Mail about the Duchess of Cambridge's brother James leaving a nightclub with television presenter Donna Air.
"Could Donna, daughter of a Newcastle builder and an HR manager, and with a child from a previous relationship, really have bagged the Duchess of Cambridge's baby brother?" asks a shocked Ms Ostler.
"What WILL Mummy Middleton have to say?" asks the stunned Mail headline writer.
A Geordie – heaven forbid! But wasn't Mummy Middleton supposed to be a great example of meritocracy, the smart former air hostess who made it in business, the one the Mail used to delight in calling "Doors to Manual"?
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