BBC issues anti-harassment guidelines to combat a 'strong undercurrent of fear' and bullying


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The Independent Online

The BBC today moved to address a culture of bullying and fear within the organisation by issuing new anti-harassment guidelines to staff and removing “gagging clauses” from contracts.

Having set up a major review of internal practices following the Jimmy Savile scandal last year, the BBC published a 70 page report which highlighted worrying levels of bullying within the organisation.

“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, fear of getting a reputation as a troublemaker and not getting promoted,” concluded the review, which was led by the barrister Dinah Rose.

The review found worrying evidence of bullying and a concern among staff that management would not take complaints seriously, particularly if the accusations related to high-profile figures. “Some individuals are seen as being ‘untouchable’ due to their perceived value to the BBC,” said the report.

The Independent understands that investigations are ongoing into collective complaints against several BBC managers, including at least one individual who is the subject of more than 20 complaints.

The Rose review described an internal culture at the BBC which many licence fee payers will find disturbing. “We heard from a number of people about how they fear being the one that gets picked on (and in some cases targeted) today. During interviews multiple members of staff in different parts of the BBC reported being bullied by a ‘known bully’. These individuals create a climate of anxiety and participants described how they live in fear that it will be their turn to be verbally abused today.”

One member of the BBC staff told the review team: “My line manager regularly displays aggressive behaviour, shouting and raging at me and others, completely unprovoked. If I complained I thought I would be perceived as not being able to do the role I had been newly promoted into.”

The review was based on interviews with 930 respondents who chose to come forward and give their views on bullying and harassment at the BBC. The National Union of Journalists also submitted a dossier of 70 pieces of testimony.

Michelle Stanistreet, the NUJ general secretary, said today: “Our submission 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 Culture Secretary Maria Miller today called on the new BBC Director-General Tony Hall to respond quickly to the review’s findings. “It is now vital that the BBC, under the new DG, acts swiftly and decisively on the report’s findings.  It is essential managers at all levels in the organisation make sure that the BBC is a good place to work, with the very best standards of behaviour.”

BBC Trust Chairman Lord Patten said he particularly welcomed the removal of “gagging clauses” which prevent employees from whistle-blowing on bad practice. He said he would be removing a similar clause from Lord Hall’s contract.

In a statement, Lord Patten said: “Sexual harassment and bullying have no place at the BBC and should be acted on and stamped out. This important report highlights some difficult issues for the BBC to address in relation to inappropriate behaviour and bullying.” He said he was pleased to find that reports of sexual harassment at the BBC were “rare”.

The review stated that sexual harassment had not been a common theme from respondents. “There have been 37 formal complaints of sexual harassment over the past six years, an average of only 6 per year, out of a population of approximately 22,000 staff and 60,000 freelancers who work with the BBC each year.”

As part of the changes that are being introduced all new BBC staff, including freelancers, will be given an introductory “Guide to the BBC” making clear their responsibilities and the “behaviours expected from everyone at the BBC”.

In addition, the review states: “An explicit clause will be included in all BBC contracts by which the contractor confirms that they will not act in a way which could be regarded as bullying or harassment.”