Wednesday, August 28

A Case Note

The BBC is often described as the world‚s most prestigious broadcaster. Its mission to „inform, educate and entertain‰ is famous and distilled in a set of 'BBC Values' to which staff must adhere. They commit the BBC to the highest ethical standards of impartiality independence and fairness. The Producers‚ Guidelines set-out a detailed code of editorial values intended to ensure honest, accurate and accountable journalism. Director Generals regularly proclaim a belief in the higher purpose of the corporation which is shared by managers and staff.

This assiduously cultivated halo makes it difficult to constructively criticize the BBC - as many have done - for warmongering and propaganda and the suppression of  critical journalism within the corporation. Maistry v BBC (2010) established that the belief in its higher purpose encouraged by the BBC is a 'philosophical belief' protected by law and that the BBC cannot discriminate against a journalist for holding such a belief. Maistry v BBC has not aroused much public interest but it has profound possibilities for raising sensible concerns about the BBC.

The BBC defended the claim of discrimination by arguing that its aims and values shouldn't be taken quite so seriously, as they amounted to little more than a mission statement. An employment judge rejected this argument. Undeterred, at the substantial hearing the BBC argued that the BBC Values were a mission statement. No evidence was provided but it was enough to persuade the judge.

On the basis that managers could not have known that the claimant shared a belief that it encourages the BBC sued for costs and was awarded the maximum - £10,000. It now holds a writ of execution.

In the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal it was discovered that there was a widespread culture of bullying and harassment at the corporation. The BBC responded in May 2013 in its '                                                    Respect at Work Review'. It promised a renaissance of its Values to begin in September 2013 and continue into its centenary year in 2022. It repeated the claim that all its managers and staff believed in the BBC Values which served its higher purpose.

The claimant applied for a review of the judgment as this public statement confirmed the evidence he had given and showed that the BBC had misled the court. The judge held that the new evidence was irrelevant. The claimant wrote to the Director General, Tony Hall explaining that the BBC had traduced its Values publicly exposing the corporation to charges of opportunism and hypocrisy. Typically there has been no reply.

On October 30 the claim will be heard by a judge for the final time. The NUJ says it cannot tell if its agreements are breached because this is a matter of subjective interpretation. The claimant intends to take the matter to the European Court of Human Rights, if necessary, and could do with some support.

Devan Maistry

Birmingham & Coventry Branch NUJ


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