Sent: Wednesday, January 22, 2014 12:08 PM
Subject: Its just not cricket
Glad to see you carrying the fight to the BBC. Thought this would give you vital ammunition.
It’s just not cricket!
The NUJ’s campaign against systematic and institutionalised bullying and harassment in the media industry – particularly at the BBC – is important for press freedom. If journalists are unable to defend themselves there is little hope for the vulnerable and voiceless. It is alarming that critical journalists can still be victimised and ‘obedience’ enforced. I have been trying to draw attention to the problem for more than five years.
In the Rose Review the BBC proposed a renaissance of its Values as the key to curbing the abuse of power. A grassroots revival of the BBC’s embedded ethos (built on its sacrosanct Values and uncompromising ethical standards) is at face value the most serious of responses. But – from what NUJ secretary, Michelle Stanistreet says – this appears to be a cosmetic exercise in damage limitation. It is disappointing and shameful that victims have received no significant redress despite the Review.
The BBC does not exist in a vacuum. Like other facets of public life it has been profoundly affected by the theology of neo-liberalism. There is clearly tension between a new managerial model and the embedded ethos of the BBC which requires creative resolution. In her landmark study, Uncertain Vision: Birt, Dyke and the Reinvention of the BBC, Professor Georgina Born suggested the BBC’s guiding values needed to be more explicitly articulated as managers embraced marketing and branding. Although these techniques were productive when used appropriately, “the problem was that they were wielded by the new layers of management intent on justifying their existence and augmenting their influence and powers within the organisation.”
I believe the stance taken by the BBC in Maistry v BBC – a legal battle now in its fourth year and in which I am the claimant – is illustrative of the deeper crisis that underlies the emergence of a culture of intimidation and fear at the BBC. It certainly provides compelling evidence to support the NUJ’s call for direct intervention by BBC Director General, Tony Hall.
The dispute centres on the ‘BBC Values’ which all employees must adhere to and apply. The BBC website says, “Our mission, vision, and values inform the work of the BBC and are how we promote our public purposes.” Endorsing the ‘Rose Review’ the Management Board says the “BBC must be an organisation which lives and breathes its Values”.
The ‘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… The BBC is an organisation 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 BBC, unambiguously and positively, encourages a shared belief in its public and higher purpose. Its mission to inform, educate and entertain is famous. However to defend claims of discrimination and harassment at an Employment Tribunal the corporation recanted. In February 2011 the BBC pleaded at a Pre-Hearing Review that its aims and values were no more than a mission statement, something to aspire to rather than believe. The Tribunal rejected this view.
It found that the aims and values of the BBC arise from an underlying belief in the importance of public service broadcasting in a democratic society. A belief in the BBC’s higher purpose was therefore deserving of the status of a philosophical belief attracting protection in law. The Tribunal allowed the claimant to proceed with his claim that he had been discriminated against for refusing to compromise his belief that the public broadcaster served a higher purpose.
It is remarkable that the BBC should provide such a dismissive view of its aims and values which are the bedrock of its ethos. At the subsequent month-long hearing in February 2012, ten BBC managers went further and effectively denied any knowledge of a shared belief in the BBC’s public purposes. This time the BBC’s legal representative claimed the BBC Values are effectively a mission statement.
On the “evidence” of the BBC the Tribunal found the BBC Values are in fact a mission statement unrelated to the BBC’s public purposes. Therefore, although all employees adhere to the Values, BBC managers could not have discriminated against the claimant as they could not have known he believed in the BBC’s public purposes. This destroyed the claimant’s credibility and his case. The BBC cynically sought costs on the grounds the claimant had acted maliciously in bringing proceedings and was awarded the maximum.
The Rose Review says all staff and managers strongly believe in the BBC Values which are a distillation of its essential mission and vision. On the BBC’s “evidence” however managers are empowered to apply the Values arbitrarily, detached from the purpose they serve. This puts them immediately into conflict with some 25 000 full time employees who are taught to believe the values exist to promote the BBC’s public purposes.
Moreover journalists are accountable for breaches of the Values. Claiming to have simply carried out the instructions of a manager will not get them off the hook. Bullying and harassment are guaranteed structural features of any organization demanding this level of cognitive dissonance.
The BBC did not have to misrepresent its Values and mislead a Tribunal to defend the case. It could have confirmed the pivotal role of the Values – as it does consistently and publicly – and still have proved (if it was true) that it did not discriminate against the claimant because he conscientiously defended the Values.
In the BBC’s statement of Values primacy is given to Trust. “Trust is the foundation of the BBC: we are independent, impartial and honest.” It is patent that by giving a false account of its Values the BBC has betrayed its Values and breached the Trust of employees and the public. Charges of insincerity, opportunism and hypocrisy follow easily, putting at risk the BBC’s reputation at home and abroad.
The BBC’s contradictory account of its values system is irrelevant legally. At Employment Tribunals judges are the sole finders of fact. The claimant will have to persuade an Appeal Court judge that the Employment Tribunal erred in law in finding the BBC Values are a mission statement. That it is public knowledge that the BBC encourages a belief in its higher purpose is, quite surreally, beside the point.
The court of public opinion is of course another matter. By misleading a tribunal the BBC effectively continues – nine years on – to harass and bully a member of the NUJ using public funds to do so. Even if the claimant is allowed to appeal, finding the money to continue will be difficult if not impossible. It’s just not cricket. But it is one more reason for the Director General to intervene directly.