Letter to Tony Hall 10-6-2013

Devan Maistry
10 June 2013

Tony Hall
The Director General, BBC
Broadcasting House, Portland Place

Dear Mr. Hall

I welcome the “Respect at Work Review” and the stance taken by the Board. The announcement of a “re-launch” of the BBC Values is encouraging. I argued for many years that such a program of reaffirmation and re-education was increasingly necessary. It would have spared me, and others, much suffering. Unfortunately in my case the victimization persists.

I was dismissed in 2010 after 5 years of maltreatment at the BBC Asian Network and was forced to bring claims of unfair dismissal, harassment and discrimination at an employment tribunal. The BBC won, was awarded costs of £10,000, and obtained an order for the recovery of the award in October last year.

I asked the BBC to stay execution of the order until the appeal process was completed and thus far no action has been taken. My appeals have been dismissed. I have a final opportunity to put my case to a judge orally. If the BBC proceeds to recover the award my home is put at risk, a matter of considerable concern and anxiety.

The heart of the matter is that the BBC chose to defend the claims by traducing its values – a strategy that proved decisive. I do not believe such opportunism – which exposes the corporation to charges of hypocrisy – would have been sanctioned by any member of the management board. Effectively I continue to be harassed.

On my  application an employment tribunal found in March 2011 that a genuinely held belief in the aims and values of the BBC met the test of a “philosophical belief”. Discrimination on the grounds of such a belief is now unlawful. Judge Hughes summarized my belief in the mission, vision, values and public purposes of the BBC as a philosophical belief in “the higher purpose of public service broadcasting.”

She  said: “It was the respondent’s case that the legislation could not have been intended to cover a belief of this nature because really it was no more than a “mission statement” i.e. a goal to aspire to, rather than a belief. The respondent’s representative argued that if the claimant was right, then it would follow that beliefs in the aims and values of a whole host of public organisations, if genuinely held, could amount to philosophical belief.”

Judge Hughes rejected this dismissive portrayal of the BBC’s aims and values. She said, “The BBC has a unique place in our society – it is partly funded by the public and it has public purposes, which set it apart from commercial providers of media services. Whilst I accepted that the public purposes set out in the Royal Charter and Agreement might fairly be characterised as idealistic in nature and/or as a “mission statement”, that does not negate the fact that the evidence before me was that those purposes arise because of a shared belief in the importance of public service broadcasting in a democratic society.”

The BBC encourages a commitment to its higher purpose, not least though its insistence on adherence to the BBC Values. Managers are obliged to assume all members of staff believe in this embedded ethos and shared value system. At the substantial hearing eleven BBC witnesses – ten managers and a presenter – said they subscribed to the BBC Values but could not have known of the claimant’s belief. This was a critical misrepresentation. The BBC lives and breathes its Values which are a distillation of the essential mission and vision of the BBC.

I attempted in extensive cross-examination to show how the BBC Values – which are not optional – informed the corporation’s work and guided the promotion of its public purpose. This time the respondent’s legal representative argued that the BBC Values itself were more or less corporate froth. “The Claimant went through the “BBC’s values”, which effectively amounts to a mission statement… These “BBC values” are highly commendable; and most BBC employees would be proud to subscribe to these values.”

The impression was strengthened by the nonchalance of Tarrant Steele the most senior BBC manager to give evidence. It was put to him that a BBC producer would have serious misgivings about working in a studio in which BBC Values were breached and guests abused. He said he was not a journalist. All he knew was that the BBC Values were inscribed on his pass. He handed his pass to the judge for inspection.

It was a winning blow. The Tribunal found on the evidence of the respondent that the BBC Values were a mission statement quite distinct from a belief in the higher purpose of public service broadcasting. The claimant had therefore failed to challenge the witnesses’ assertion that it was impossible for them to have known of his belief. An adverse inference was drawn undermining the claimant’s credibility entirely and resulting in the Tribunal deciding all issues of fact in favour of the respondent.

The BBC’s legal representative applied for costs alleging the claimant had brought his case maliciously and unreasonably. This was disingenuous and cynical. Worse it suggests the BBC is vindictive – and petty. It is not.

The reason given for my dismissal after a three and a half year process was capability. The only investigation of the performance issues and claims of ill-treatment (including a complaint under our Bullying and Harassment Policy) was undertaken – after my dismissal – by Tarrant Steele, then head of Radio 1.

He found that after 14 years at the BBC – including five years as a television producer and director – and despite glowing praise for my work, I had failed to demonstrate entry level skills such as editing a package. The BBC accepted and confirmed in writing that it had broadcast a number of substantial documentaries I had produced and presented, some still available on the Network’s website. Three had been heard by BBC executives at the Program Review Board and received favourably. The Tribunal failed to grasp the implication but Mr Steele was clearly aware that he was quite unfairly making an impossible claim.

Other reasons for dismissal included “performance failures” like forwarding a press release about the London Film Festival to colleagues – which they found extremely useful – and failing to attend a training course available only after I had been dismissed. In short performance was never the issue. The real lesson is that this enormous waste of resources and time was completely unnecessary. The intervention of a single competent manager prepared to think independently would have been sufficient.

After three years of marginalisation and harassment I said in a grievance letter in June 2008 that we needed to reaffirm our commitment to BBC values which I suspected was the major issue. In September 2008 I said in a letter of appeal, ‘I have always been proud of my loyalty to the programs on which I have worked. If, as I suspect, there is an ongoing effort to marginalise and victimise journalists, and especially within a department in which we are trying to nurture ethnic talent, our concern must immediately include the impact this will have on the Network. Journalists who are afraid to think independently are unlikely to foster the high standards of objective reporting on which the reputation of the BBC has been built. There is also the grave risk of evolving a second class culture in which such conduct becomes acceptable.”

In October 2008 I wrote to management saying, “Clearly the facts suggest this is an issue which demands the most serious consideration not just at an individual level but equally as a concern about the values we project in the workplace.

In August 2009 I complained to BBC HR Direct: “Throughout this painful and debilitating ordeal I have appealed to management to act in the best interests of the BBC. I said straight dealing and being up-front are core BBC values and that a culture which disdains such standards should not be allowed to develop within the Asian Network which aims to encourage and promote ethnic journalism. I have pointed out in submissions that there is an established practice at the BBC for improving and achieving performance. Raising capability issues (where on the facts none seriously exist) in a convoluted, tedious, costly and time-consuming strategy spanning three years is I suspect a vindictive abuse of power and position. I believe I am being bullied and harassed as described in our Bullying and Harassment document…”

In September 2009 in a further grievance letter I said. “Moreover these capability issues are raised against a disconcerting background of harassment, bullying and marginalisation and appear to be chosen over more direct and established strategies for training staff and enhancing performance…I believe such reckless managerial conduct damages the reputation of the BBC, undermines its efforts to promote citizenship and civil society and discourages critical journalism at the Asian Network.”

In my appeal against dismissal I said:  ‘I have restricted the ground of this appeal therefore to the charge that senior management has failed to defend the Corporation’s espoused values and particularly at an ‘ethnic’ network; and that I have been dismissed for maintaining such trust. I believe this is a matter of public interest and that the Director General be copied.’

In my closing argument at the substantial hearing I said: “There is indeed some distance between the Claimant’s explicit statement of abuse in June 2010 and the cautious and careful view – expressed in May 2008 – of whether compelling a formal review of his performance was proper or necessary.  That difference is simply explained. The Claimant’s complaints had been ignored for over two years while he continued to be harassed. A pattern of less favourable treatment had become obvious. The facts overwhelmed any fear of mistake on the part of the Claimant and the risk of stigmatizing the Respondent unfairly. This sensitivity is important.  Discrimination savages the victim but also discomforts those within shouting distance. The reality of experience also convinced the Claimant that the font of prejudice was what he had long suspected; the rejection of the very value system that makes the BBC a vital and special space.”

In legal argument at the pre-hearing review I referred to Georgina Born’s landmark study of the BBC, ‘Uncertain Vision: Birt, Dyke and the Reinvention of the BBC’.  “The problem as Professor Born observes is that ‘the development of marketing and branding required some of the guiding values of BBC services were made explicit in a way they had not previously been…” I believe the Respect at Work Review addresses this key issue and the principle for which I have fought.

It is useful to consider whether safeguards are appropriate in future. The corporation’s reputation was put at risk in a court of law quite unnecessarily.

* BBC Values were grotesquely distorted

* The tribunal found on the evidence of an assistant editor that the BBC pre-agreed the content of interviews and could not guarantee the confidentiality of sources.

* Abusing guests was presented as somewhat excusable at the BBC.

* The BBC appears to condone unfairness. Its legal representative rejected the BBC’s own protocol for taking meeting notes to ensure the claimant could not rely on clarifications – which are part of the formal record – as evidence.

* The BBC encourages dishonesty.  At the cost hearing I provided proof that a witness had lied about joining the BBC as a senior journalist. A key document on which the BBC relied was shown to have been fabricated. Judicial instruction was perverted.

* BBC management shows no respect for union agreements.

* The BBC uses improvement plans as a forum for institutionalised bullying.

* Employees at the BBC are not allowed to respond to performance allegations.

* Managers do not bother to read letters of complaint or indeed investigate performance issues or claims of malicious treatment. It is enough to focus on “process”.

* The BBC employs idiots. The witnesses consistently and spectacularly contradicted themselves and found it hard to remember.

* The BBC ignores its formidable training resources in dealing with issues of capability.

* BBC managers are inept, lazy or both. Even with the help of HR they could not furnish simple notes to show that a formal four-week improvement plan leading to the claimant’s dismissal had actually been conducted.

* The BBC consciously provides inferior programs.

* The BBC makes it up. The only serious claim – that the claimant had failed to produce an interview to BBC standard – turned out to be entirely fanciful. There was no such interview.

* The BBC help lines are a joke – their priority is global warming and suicide prevention.

* BBC managers have a superficial understanding of the BBC Values and little journalistic experience. “As we felt the team was a cross section for the Asian audience, we felt that if we did not know who the person was, from an editorial perspective we did not think the audience would be interested.”

This would be a ridiculously inaccurate reflection of the BBC in general and it is fortunate that this lengthy hearing went unreported.

I realise I raise a sensitive issue. But in the light of the Respect at Work Review I believe that the injustice of my effectively continuing harassment will be sympathetically addressed by the Director General – and as a matter of urgency – if brought to his attention.


Devan Maistry