Blog: Clash of values (8-01-15)

Not a day goes by without an invocation to British values of democracy, the rule of law, decency and  tolerance. The best still walk before a finger has been raised. In real life things are not that simple and a clash of values at the BBC is instructive.

Ten managers told a Tribunal they could not have known I believed the BBC served a higher purpose, and therefore could not have discriminated against me for that reason.

I argued that this could not be true. The BBC insists all staff follow a set of BBC Values which exist to promote its public and higher purpose. In short the BBC encourages a common and shared belief. To claim allegiance to the Values and ignorance of the aims they promote is contradictory. This submission – made as the trial began – has never been addressed.

Under cross-examination the BBC managers confirmed they followed the Values putting the issue beyond the pale. The Tribunal however found I had failed to challenge their claim that they were unaware of my belief. So an adverse inference was drawn against my credibility underpinning many of the Tribunal’s findings of fact. The Tribunal made 98 findings of fact, none in my favour.

Crucially it rejected the finding of a previous Tribunal that the BBC Values constituted the basis of a belief cogent enough to attract protection under the law. Instead the Tribunal found the Values were a mission statement rather than an expression of the  BBC’s higher purpose. This sunk my case.

Then the Jimmy Savile scandal opened a can of worms. In its 60 page “Respect at Work Review” published in May 2013 the BBC acknowledged a culture of bullying and harassment at the Corporation. More to the point statements in the review, endorsed by the Management Board, showed that I was right about the Values.

I applied for the judgment to be reviewed on the basis of these statements made in the first 13 pages of the ‘Review’.  The application included the following passages:

“In its forward to the ‘Respect at Work Review’ the BBC Management Board says: “People expect more from the BBC. Our audiences and licence fee payers expect high standards of creativity, impartiality and distinctiveness. They expect us to behave with the utmost integrity and decency. They expect us to live up to our stated Values. They are right to do so. The people who help to make the BBC what it is – our staff, our freelancers, our managers, our leaders, our contributors, our suppliers and our partners – expect more of us too. They have the right to expect the BBC to be an organisation which behaves with the highest ethics and standards, where their talents, hard work and loyalty are matched by an experience or relationship with the BBC which is truly rewarding, fulfilling, positive and respectful. The BBC must be an organisation which lives and breathes its Values”(p 3)

The ‘Respect at Work Review’ says:
“The BBC Values are widely disseminated and published on our internal and external websites. They are printed on the back of most BBC identity cards. They represent a distillation of the essential mission and vision of the BBC and should be at the heart of everything the BBC does, and the way in which it conducts itself.”(p 5)

‘The BBC is an organization which inspires a strong affiliation from the majority of people working with it. The BBC mission is often a personally shared endeavour and it is a cause for real pride to be part of it. Our staff and managers believe strongly in the BBC Values and are committed to trying to make the BBC a good place to work”.

The report confirms that managers and staff share a common belief in the BBC Values which represent the Corporation’s mission and vision – its higher purpose. This contradicts the assertion of the respondent witnesses that they could not have known of the claimant’s belief.

The report says that a re-launch of the BBC Values is to be a key strategy as it approaches its centenary year (p 11). The Values will feature more explicitly in team discussions; compliance with the Values will be a consideration in promotions and appraisals and there will be reference to the Values in job advertisements and role specifications (p 12). Training and development for managers will be re-visited to make sure the Values and tackling bullying and harassment are sufficiently prominent. Managers will be provided with mentors. There will be quarterly Values Surveys. Those managing 10 or more people will carry out a 360o survey based upon the Values. Long lasting improvements will require a relentless focus on the Values of the BBC by all staff. The BBC has not placed enough emphasis on its Values in recent years and that must change (p 13).

From the above it is clear that the BBC does not regard its values as a mere ‘mission statement’ as argued by the respondent’s representative. The BBC insists on observance of these Values which inform its work and the promotion of its public purposes. It intends to ensure that managers comply with the Values in practice.

The BBC has put the ‘Review’ into the public domain because it believes the issue of inappropriate behaviour (bullying and harassment) is not just an issue for the BBC but is an industry wide problem. The Management Board therefore welcomes “the opportunity to share our findings and approach in more detail with the media industry”(p 4).”

Employment Judge Harding rejected this new evidence as irrelevant. She acknowledged Judge Pauline Hughes had found I held a serious belief in the BBC Values attracting legal protection. Her Tribunal however found as a fact that the BBC managers merely thought the BBC Values were a mission statement which emphasized the importance of certain matters such as Respect and Trust

Quite clearly the BBC Management Board and I – along with some 20,000 employees – believe the BBC Values epitomise the BBC’s higher purpose. However the Tribunal found the  BBC managers could not have known of this belief (they regarded the Values as a mission statement) and therefore could not have discriminated.

The Tribunal does not enquire whether the managers are right to hold such a contrary and unorthodox view. It just hands them a ‘get out of jail free’ card. The divine right of management trumps the BBC’s sacrosanct values.

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