The BBC World Service newsroom was described yesterday as an enclave ruled by white men with a "colonial mentality" who kept ethnic minority staff in their place.
One of the service's long-standing journalists, Sharan Sandhu, told an employment tribunal that the office was dominated by a powerful group of either "Oxbridge types or tabloid, drinking journalists". The few ethnic-minority staff working there were accepted as long as they did as they were told, the 51-year-old added.
Ms Sandhu, who has worked for the World Service for 12 years, is claiming she was repeatedly passed over for promotion because of direct and indirect racial and sexual discrimination.
The BBC has denied her claims.
But Clive Sheldon, counsel to Ms Sandhu, quoted the BBC's director general, Greg Dyke, yesterday as describing the corporation as "hideously white". Furthermore, he told the tribunal, a World Service worker, Mary Hockaday, had, in 1998, likened its senior journalists to "a clique of aggressive schoolboys".
Yesterday, giving evidence on the first day of her tribunal in central London, Ms Sandhu – an Asian woman who grew up in Africa before coming to the UK in 1968 – described joining the BBC as a sub-editor in 1990 after eight years working for Reuters.
There were, she said, only three other ethnic minority reporters – all working, as she was, at the lowest level. She said: "We kept our head down and worked hard ... There was a senior layer of male, white journalists who were very powerful on the desk.
"It was a culture of do as you are told and do as you are ordered. It was totally hierarchical. You were made to feel very small," she added.
Ms Sandhu said she "acted up" in senior positions on several occasions and received good appraisals but failed to gain a single promotion despite applying 12 times.
The case is expected to last four weeks.Reuse content