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BBC faces backlash for “continuing to employ bullies”

Despite a commitment to challenge workplace bullying and harassment, the BBC has seemingly struggled to address these HR issues.

Daniel Richardson

BBC bully complain HR
Credit: @LorraineKellyWX via Twenty20

Unleash Your Curiosity Can the BBC live up to its promises to handle complaints of bullying within its workplaces?

  • International broadcaster the BBC has been accused of failing in its “zero tolerance” approach to bullying and harassment.
  • The broadcaster has upheld, or partially upheld, 33 of 154 bullying and harassment cases in the past two years.
  • Despite this, only one person has lost their job since 2019 because of a complaint.

As an international broadcaster, the BBC has released programming that has entertained the world. From Sherlock to Killing Eve, the broadcaster is renowned for releasing award-worthy and acclaimed content.

The BBC is a British company that is funded by the public. A TV licence paid for annually by viewers enables the broadcast behemoth to produce and release its widely enjoyed content across the world.

Yet the broadcaster is coming under attack for failing to fulfil commitments in the wake of a huge scandal involving former presenter Jimmy Savile.

After Savile’s crimes were made public, the BBC pledged to take a “zero-tolerance” approach to bullying and harassment as part of the Respect at Work review by Dinah Rose QC. Nonetheless, a Freedom of Information (FOI) Act disclosure published by The Times has raised fresh questions about the broadcaster’s commitment to this pledge.

Employee Complaints

The disclosure found that since 2019, the “BBC has upheld or partially upheld 33 of 154 bullying and harassment cases”. However, only one person had been fired for this behaviour during the past two years. Furthermore, 105 grievances were dismissed and 16 were withdrawn.

Additionally, the broadcaster has faced 508 formal cases of bullying and harassment since 2013. A total of 32 of these cases involved sexual harassment.

The number of claims peaked in 2019, when there were 92 formal complaints – 10 of which involved sexual harassment.

The broadcaster is also accused of failing to meet promises to deal with complaints promptly. The FOI disclosure referred to the BBC taking “too long” to process complaints. Complaints were intended to be settled within 30 days, while the broadcaster acknowledged that complex cases could take 60 days. During the past eight years the BBC has taken an average of 79 days to settle grievances.

In response, the broadcaster has claimed it takes “appropriate action” in all cases.

Ongoing employee problems

Despite the statement issued by the BBC, some parties have questioned the action it has taken. In fact, one source who has been involved in a complaint since the broadcaster assessed its policies in 2013 told The Times that steps taken were “more about protecting the institution than the individual”.

Another member of staff issued the damning verdict: “The BBC is mafia-like.”

Paul Siegert, broadcasting organiser at the National Union of Journalists gave greater insight into the situation.

Seigert stated: “Many of those accused are managers and the BBC is scared to dismiss them because they are worried about the negative publicity.”

Siegert also noted: “Often those guilty leave quietly with a pay-off… a wholly unacceptable way of cracking down on inappropriate behaviour.”

In response, the BBC said: “The BBC should be ambitious about resolving cases quickly, but they can be complex and need to be investigated with rigour and care.”

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