BBC rocked by workplace bullying report

A “strong undercurrent of fear” exists at the BBC when it comes to addressing issues around workplace bullying.

This is the conclusion of a report by barrister Dinah Rose, who was asked to carry out a ‘Respect at work’ review of the organisation following the Jimmy Savile revelations. Its initial remit was to focus solely on incidents of sexual harassment but this was later broadened to take into account other behaviour.

The report, which covered the period 2005 to 2012, found incidents of sexual harassment are scarce – an average of six per year – but bullying is much more common.

More than 900 people volunteered to share their experiences of the corporation, of whom 500 were interviewed. Two-thirds of those questioned said they had witnessed or experienced bullying at the BBC.

The report said: “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 if an employee, or further work if a freelancer, supplier, or contractor.”

BBC director-general Tony Hall admitted that parts of the report “make uncomfortable reading,” and called for a zero-tolerance approach to bullying.

“We need to be honest about our shortcomings and single-minded in addressing them,” wrote Lord Hall, in response to the review. “I want… a culture where people feel able to raise concerns and have the confidence that they will be dealt with appropriately.

“I also want people to be able to speak freely about their experiences of working at the BBC so that we can learn from them.”

The report also found evidence that some behaviour goes unchallenged by senior managers, with a perception that ‘talent’ are treated differently because of the power they wield over the organisation. As a result, the BBC has said it will remove ‘gagging orders’ – which prevent an individual from speaking publicly about issues in the workplace – from future contracts and compromise agreements.

In response to the findings, the BBC has agreed to implement a number of changes in consultation with employees and unions. It has been agreed that:

  • the bullying and harassment policy will be reworked, with an emphasis on resolving issues informally;
  • the policy will be extended so it is clear the general principles apply to all those who work for the BBC, or on its premises, or who participate in its programmes;
  • a confidential helpline will be set up to support staff;
  • complaints will be heard by a manager and an HR person from outside the division to ensure impartiality;
  • complaints will aim to be resolved within 30 days, with all parties made aware of the outcome; and
  • the BBC will train a number of expert mediators from within the HR team and improve senior management training.

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) said the report chimed with its own findings and submission of evidence.

The union’s general secretary, Michelle Stanistreet, said: “We included over 70 pieces of testimony in our report, and many more members – past and present BBC staff – contacted me, but were too frightened to have their own shocking experiences included in case they were identified. The impact on individuals who’ve experienced appalling treatment at work has been immense.”

She continued: “That the BBC is now taking action and getting a grip of what is a toxic problem can only be a good thing. It is positive news that investigations will be carried out by an independent panel in future, although we remain concerned about how efficiently this can be delivered by an in-house approach.

“We will work with the BBC to monitor and review all the changes. It’s vital that this is a genuine fresh start – one that marks the dismantling of a culture that has allowed bullying and harassment to take hold.”