Disgruntled of Glasgow

Why am I doing this? What is the motivation for going back over events at the BBC when it is no longer part of my daily life? The BBC’s own answer is that I am a disgruntled ex-employee whose opinions can be discounted as bitter and vengeful. That is how all former staff who become critics are regarded and dismissed. It is a simple, all-embracing answer to everything that is said that managers don’t like and means they can avoid introspection and doubt.

Well I am certainly resentful about the way the BBC is run and how some decisions impacted on myself. But I like to think the reason for sharing that more widely is my belief that the licence-fee payers have a right to hear what staff think, not just what managers say they think. My approach is governed not by a hierarchical management structure to which I only ever offered perfunctory allegiance but by a broadcaster’s obligation to the public. This, after all, is public service broadcasting. It is made for the public by a publicly accountable organisation using public money.

Why then does it place on staff a contractual obligation not to speak out about its internal affairs? This policy is being revisited as more claims of bullying have emerged but I think this needs to go further to allow all staff access to a complaints blog on the BBC website in which they can air their views on any aspect of BBC business. The only area I would protect would be commercial and personal contract details.

Virtually any statement by a staff member, and certainly articles, columns or letters to the press, can be construed as being against the interests of the BBC. That is clearly ridiculous and, I argue, counter-productive. Did it do the BBC any harm when journalists spoke up about the reports on Jimmy Savile being dropped? This case provides an interesting insight as of course it did do the corporate BBC harm, but it did the public a service and boosted the reputation of the journalists. And in there can be seen the real reason why I think the BBC perseveres with an out-dated rule of omerta on staff. It keeps a lid on discontent and saves managers from public scrutiny. When a former senior staff member wrote to the Scotsman to criticise some aspect the BBC of which he had inside knowledge, an existing news department executive actually asked out loud: “Isn’t that covered by the Official Secrets Act!”

It is in this climate of infallibility that mistakes are made, compounded and repeated. All managements are self-protecting entities, carefully massaging here, neatly sidestepping there and where is the real oversight on the public’s behalf? In the hands of the BBC Trust, of course…an organisation which, even when it finds against the BBC as it regularly does, has no sanction. Who’s afraid of a regime with no penalty to impose?

I argue that the distrust felt by many of the public would be assuaged by hearing directly from staff the difficulties and conflicts that arise in an important public organisation. The first position of every management when trouble arises is denial. They say: There is no problem. That changes to: There is only a small problem. Then: We can deal with it…nothing to worry about. That quickly changes to: Oh shit…Who can we blame!

This culture of internal secrecy extended to obliging staff leaving with redundancy deals after a dispute to sign a condition that they wouldn’t speak out about their experience after they’d left. In my view this is a breach of civil rights of the individual. And of course, it also throws a blanket over the responsibility of the BBC itself.

Internal troublemakers do cause problems but in my experience nearly everybody in the BBC has its best interests at heart. Staff  have no inclination to be vexatious and can offer insights into the day-to-day work of programme-making that no manager can match. Why should any executive feel threatened by having their staff use a forum to give their views freely to the people who pay for the service? How many mistakes in programme changes, scheduling or use of technology could be avoided by publicising the ideas and insights of the staff who make it all work?

The reason they feel threatened I think is lack of confidence. Only people unsure of themselves and unable to deal constructively with criticism shy away from scrutiny and debate. This lack of confidence has been revealed to me on occasions when I inadvertently said “the wrong thing” about the BBC on air. The reaction of two different Heads of News was rapid and robust. Once, when we were wrestling with new technology during a live programme, there were so many screw-ups I decided it was a courtesy to the listeners to explain the truth – that we were fighting the computers which had just been installed to replace paper copy. The then Head of News took me aside and explained that no matter what was happening on air, I was never to imply criticism of BBC management to the listeners. The reputation of management was to be kept sacrosanct while the reputation of broadcasters stumbling on air didn’t matter, and as for the listening public…

I stopped blogging for the BBC when the Head of Radio objected to a post I wrote about the new Saturday Good Morning Scotland. I  wrote that all new programmes make some grandiose claim to fame but we wouldn’t do that. We would, I said, simply do our best with the resources we had and the listener would get our best efforts. It didn’t exactly ring with optimism, I’ll grant you, but to the executives it had the smack of someone disagreeing with management decisions to get rid of the previous programme Newsweek over which there was widespread complaint. I refused to be censored by a manager and declined to re-write my blog. I opted to quit blogging altogether rather than be prevented from expressing my – largely uncontroversial – view by a management afraid of even mild criticism.

The truth is that the BBC talks about transparency and accountability and no doubt as individuals they agree with both. But often the reality simply doesn’t match up. Statements made to staff during the recent round job cuts were not just ill-informed, they were mendacious and designed to mislead. They were the kind of propaganda used in the private sector by managements with no wider public responsibility nor history of respect. The woman who issued them, Lucy Adams, was later accused by MPs of lying when they investigated BBC executives being overpaid in redundancy deals.

How transparent was the pension slush fund operate by and for the BBC executive board? While they cut pensions for 19,000 staff, the senior managers kept an undisclosed pot for themselves and doled themselves top-ups to their already mountainous pensions.

Sometime ago…I don’t know exactly when…something changed in the BBC. It lost the capricious, carefree, mildly incompetent air and the sense that nothing was impossible because we had the will and the skill to make it happen. It became instead centralised, overbearing, intolerant and dictatorial to staff. It stopped trusting its own people and mid-level executives with indeterminate roles found one by bossing programme-makers. Budgets, not content, became king. People were always the most important aspect of the corporation but that gave way to process so that how something was done became more important that what was done. Many of us lost at least some of our pride and it’s astonishing how quickly the oxygen that breathes life into a community of people can be cut off. The latest BBC Scotland staff survey reveals the awful truth.

I don’t buy the critique that the BBC is finished or that the licence fee should be stopped. But I think the existing monolithic structure is finished and the management must be stopped – stopped from treating it like a private company in which they hold all the power like company directors while the staff are discounted. The staff are the lifeblood of the BBC and need to be brought back to the centre of decision-making, not patronised by made-up consultation exercises and chased out the door to make cuts that could have been managed with intelligence rather than brute force. The first step should be to free staff to speak openly about their experience and begin the business of turning around the ethos of the BBC and bring it back into alignment with the society it serves. That is my motivation.

37 thoughts on “Disgruntled of Glasgow

  1. In Scotland it is possibly too late for the BBC to recover. The progress of Scots to Independence has been treated as some form of insurrection by a hostile minority. Forget polls, Scotland will be Independent after the vote next year. The clearly, London bias, even importing anglo scots who don’t get the Scotland that is here now, not the basket case of 30 years ago but a wiser nation which believes in itself.

    • “The progress of Scots to Independence has been treated as some form of insurrection by a hostile minority.”

      Spot on. There is a culture within the BBC that regards the SNP, the Scottish government and the Yes campaign as a crowd of ignorant oiks with no right at all to be taken seriously. Time and time again spokesmen for independence are either not reported at all, or are reported in scathing and dismissive terms. Conversely the No proponents are treated to respect and deference, and their contributions to aforesaid scathing and dismissive attacks encouraged.

      It seems that derision and contempt for the entire independence campaign are the starting point for all discussion of the subject. Presenters have no compunction about approaching interviews with aggression and hostility, apparently because they genuinely see the independence position as an essentially illegitimate one.

      Look at that interview with Edwina Currie on Radio 5. She was factually wrong about Alex Salmond’s career, catastrophically wrong, but she was allowed to charge on regardless. Obviously the presenter didn’t know she was wrong. Both participants were against Scottish independence, and it was little more than a cosy chat about whether Salmond was a dangerously populist rabble-rouser, or simply too insignificant for Cameron to soil his fingers with. Result, a tirade of baseless nastiness against Scotland’s First Minister was broadcast.

      Could that ever happen where an English politician was the subject? I doubt it. But it’s OK to rip into Salmond with completely made-up smears because he and his agenda are not legitimate, and don’t deserve the dignity of research, or right of reply. I’m tired of it. I don’t see how the BBC can ever regain trust after the referendum.

  2. Hi Derek glad your back thought you had been silenced. Last night I heard an ad on the BBC for viewers to direct complaints to the BBC Board and I decided to do that but if they have no sanction -why bother? Cheers

  3. Derek
    In such bureaucratic insitutions, church, civil service, military (hierarchy), trades unions, nationalised industries (BBC included) and other mature static organisations, there is no culture of organic growth and adaptation to changes in the external climate. The pervading administrative culture is stasis and collective reaction to the outside forces threatening the collective.

    The only chance of anything changing, ever, if is a problem gets aired and becomes and issue, better still with some bugger’s, (near the top) name running through it like Blackpool rock. This person must have the wherewithall to be able to solve the problem and the personal motivation to do it.

    Sadly, history tells us, from the Roman Empire forward that left to its own devices, a bureaucratic structure, especially a monopolistic one, needs to be deconstructed before change can happen. Think the military how they always prepare to fight the last war and have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the last century by younger and motivated recruits who will be the cannon fodder sacrifices.

    The French intrinsically understand that last part of tearing down and starting again, thus the different Republics. I actually smell a new one in the oven just now.

    Scotland has this chance to start with a clean sheet of paper and I would sadly suggest that the BBC in Scotland, as it is currently entrenched in Scotland, is completely inappropriate for Scotland’s future. There will be lots of honourable men and women working in it who will be good for a future SBC but, like the new political parties which will be needed in an independent Holyrood, the dead hand of the old systems must not be allowed to choke the future.

  4. Well said Derek. I was seething when I heard that my licence fee had gone towards enhanced redundancy/pension deals for senior management. And as for the London bias, I am heartily sick of it, treating Scotland like a region and of little importance on the Six o’clock news agenda. And as for James Naughtie – a glaring fish out of water – a Scot sent from London. We have very good journalists in Scotland, including yourself Derek, who are better placed to lead the coverage of the Referendum. Typical London riding roughshod over BBC Scotland. Why didn’t the managers here tell London to go and bile their heids. Keep writing the blogs Derek. We public are well aware of the BBC and its poor attitude towards its staff and their patronising attitude towards Scotland. Will be glad to get rid of them this time next year,

  5. BBC News is just state propaganda so you only ever get one side of a story…..anti SNP/ independence…..pro the EU , global warming, Obama, the Union, perpetual overseas wars etc.
    What’s the point of tuning into the news if you only ever get half the story ?
    When did the BBC ever do a report on the benefits of independence ? The corruption in the EU ? The various global warming scams ? The fight for freedom and scores of deaths in Bahrain ? ( we support this dictatorship so can’t mention the brutality ).

    As for the rest of their output….

    COMEDY….same old left wing ‘comics’ on a never ending conveyor belt with predictable targets and ‘jokes’…tories, sweaty socks, Republicans etc.

    FOOTBALL…rarely get a Scottish domestic or international game. On the rare occasion we do we have to suffer the screaming banshee ( Liam Mcleod) commentating. We can sometimes get digital radio commentary but there’s a slight delay with the live footage on tv. Oh and of course we can’t mention The Rangers being a new club. Jim Spence got suspended for blasphemy when he tried. The Rangers and the useless SFA must be supported at all costs or there will be riots and ‘armageddon’.

    CHAT SHOWS…don’t go there.

    DOCUMENTARIES/ NATURE….now unwatchable as there’s always an agenda waiting to jump out and spoil things. Usually the global warming scam.

    The BBC are in a dire state but can keep going with eye watering salaries of £1million pounds a year for their boss and £600K pay offs for hangers on because if we don’t pay them £146 a year then they will put us in prison.
    Hopefully they will be kicked out of Scotland after independence, never to darken our door with their rubbish ever again.

  6. Derek,

    Reading your blog reminds me of my time working under the iron heel of Norwich Union after my own company merged with it and contracted out General Insurance management to Norwich.

    This was a management completely dedicated to ignoring the wishes and views of the staff at almost every level. However, after a couple of years it started to penetrate even their thick skulls that you couldn’t manage highly qualified and experienced staff by treating them like 18 year old call centre workers. Of course, their mindset was such that they believed that while one might conduct consultation exercises, the point of them was to delude the staff into thinking they had been consulted while the management would do what they intended regardless

    One summer, my younger son came to do work experience in my office. He came up to my desk one morning and said, “I see they now have the results of the intranet staff survey of their proposals to [some daft idea].”

    “Oh,” said I, “and what was the result?”

    “The employees voted three to one against it!”

    I said, “I see. What’s HR’s response?”

    “Well,” said my son, “To boil it down to its essentials, it was, ‘Thanks, but you’re all wrong’!”.

    • “Well,” said my son, “To boil it down to its essentials, it was, ‘Thanks, but you’re all wrong’!”.

      Similar experience, but my company didn’t bother with the thanks!

  7. cynicalHighlander

    Too big to fail syndrome just like the banks arrogance and corruption dominate giving them power above democracy and complete dismantlement is the only solution.

  8. Hi Derek, loving both your blogs, a breath of fresh air but I feel the BBC is beyond recovery in its present form.
    May I make a personal appeal to you to darken the text for those of us with increasing vision problems 🙂

  9. The BBC as a whole appeared to become more biddable after the David Kelly affair and the departure of Greg Dyke. I don’t whether or not that might be connected to the changes you’re describing, but from the outside it certainly looked like a time when things started to change.

  10. I have to disagree on the BBC tax – there’s a word for organisations that extract money from people under the threat of menaces (legal action).. it is simple thuggery. Jimmy Savile himself was a perfect illustration of this organisation – on the surface a charming and harmless buffoon but underneath a dark, sinister, abusive, manipulative monster….

    That’s the BBC all over – it’s the 21st century and what does the BBC offer me for the privilege of paying for it? Childish propaganda that would embarrass Pravda, soap opera’s and childish drama…

    The sooner it dies the better…

  11. I cant see myself ever trusting that organisation again, in my view it should be dismantled and a new Scottish Broadcasting Corporation built in its place, it may be expensive and it may cost good people their livelihoods but the taint of the lies and misdeeds of that crew cut so deeply that complete destruction of The Scottish branch of the BBC is the only answer, I trust the news reports from Manchester (up to a point) but nothing from the good morning” to the “that’s you up to date now” from that person on good morning Scotland carries any more authority than a good story on Jackanory.

  12. “I don’t buy the critique that the BBC is finished or that the licence fee should be stopped” – well that’s one of us. Say – was that your “choice” to not buy the critique… must be nice that… to choose freely like that without threatening letters, visits at the door from heavies, court orders…

    Yes.. this freedom thing must be wonderful… maybe we’ll get some after 2014…

    Then again – must know MY PLACE – silly me – it’s my “right” to continue to work to death to fund the cosy lifestyles of middle class pseudo intelligencia… Yes…. work hard, pay the taxes as my betters decide then fuck off and die nice and quick once my working days are done…

    Jesus – what this country has always needed and never had was a bloody good revolution.

  13. Interesting, thanks. Made me think of the oft-quoted organisational life-cycle graph (eg at http://www.bestpath.co.uk/lifecycle.html …..if I’m allowed to post links) . Certainly post- bureaucracy;
    are we talking about recrimination stage or death? Doesn’t matter how large or small the organisation. – Rory

  14. oops ….. meant to say certainly post-aristocracy

  15. cynicalHighlander

    Views being sought on BBC reporting of referendum vote

    I wouldn’t be very polite myself but I think they require something more constructive.

    • The BBC report on the referendum coverage which CH mentions above is a good read. Within the first few paragraphs the BBC mention impartiality of news reporting. They want your opinion so why not drop them a line ?
      Maybe a good starting point would be to suggest the removal of Sir Tony Hall as Director General who said at a speech in Edinburgh this past August that the ‘BBC would find it difficult to be impartial on the referendum.’
      How can we have confidence that the BBC will deliver on this most vital promise when the top man already admits the BBC can’t deliver ?

  16. Roibert a Briuis

    OH MY Derek,

    To put it in the vernacular the cats oot o’ the bag and the games a boggy for the BBC.

    I can understand your loyalty BUT it is CORPORATEnees gone mad. It was always the same in big business and multinationals. But you don’t have to look at private companies to see this modern phenomenon/method of operation. Just look at the wee piggies in the WestMonster Zoo. They are at it too, stay on message, be a good boy/girl and you will be in the HoL when your time as an MP is over. Rock the boat and you are labeled as a trouble maker show some independent sensible line of thinking and get lent on or beaten up by your associates.

    The BBC cant be reformed, it needs totally ripped apart and something ‘better’ put in its place.
    The ‘workers’ will hopefully find jobs in the new organisation but those in senior management positions should be shown a closed door. For sure it needs a strong determined leader to make all this happen sadly I cant think who I would be happy to see build the new organisation…..except someone from abroad with no ties and no history to the old organisation maybe a Sandinavian?

    Look how bad things are, we have to watch Russian TV or Al Jazeera to get news on the UK that is free of Government and the BBC’s spin and lies……..a truly horrendous situation.

    Sorry Derek you have told us what it is like from the inside……and sadly it is a lot worse than we suspected that only confirms our worst fears NOT Fit For Purpose and Well Past Its Sell By Date. when the BBC (Scotland) gets ripped apart it will be another Berlin Wall Moment – cant come a day too soon.

    • Robert a Briuis says
      “The BBC cant be reformed, it needs totally ripped apart and something ‘better’ put in its place.”
      found myself nodding in agreement all the way through your post.

  17. I admire your motivation Derek, but as others have said, it’s probably too late for reform.
    So much change……..so little time.

  18. I don’t understand why people complain about the BBC and then meekly cough up 145 pounds for the licence fee. If you don’t like BBC bias don’t watch TV and don’t pay the licence fee. You’re only paying to be brainwashed.

    • My understanding is that we only need a TV licence if we watch live TV. I watch everything on catch up or recorded.

  19. I have a TV connected to a multimedia PC that I built. Initially I had it connected to an aerial via a TV card installed in the PC. I used it so rarely I’ve disconnected it and cancelled my license and received a refund!
    Entertainment and news via the internet is so much better than the drivel found on TV, I have found I have no use for the BBC’s services, not even the iplayer. If something happens or is reported on the beeb that is of interest to me, 99 times out of 100 someone will post it on youtube or some other such site. I also have front row access to blogs such as these that I find mainly through social networks.
    This is the 21st century, TV is dying and being replaced by something corporations are struggling to catch up with and control.
    People up and down the UK are also cancelling their licenses, mainly to protest against perceived bias towards Westminster on issues such as the NHS in England where the beeb hardly made a squeak.
    The BBC is old and dying just like Westminster. Change is coming, regardless of the outcome of the referendum.
    I haven’t watched all of this, just skipped through it, but if you search “BBC license” on youtube you’ll find lots of examples…

  20. Sorry Derek, the BBC is finished in an independent Scotland. The corporate structure, the degree of silencing voices, the political partisanship, the relationship with Glasgow council and we haven’t even started on the horrific programme making. Some radio programmes are worth keeping, they are by far the exception however.

    Did anyone see J.Bird on Reporting Scotland talking to Douglas Fraser about Grangemouth the other night ? Talking absolute garbage but putting on the serious expression followed by the wringing of the hands in a most ‘concerned’ manner. In her private speech bubble she’s thinking ; ‘am I Woodward or Bernstein ? wonder if I’m eligible for a Pulitzer ?’

    She can’t present live and anyone who considers her a journalist so seek psychiatric help.

    Nope, clear the whole lot out and start again.

    You can be in charge of Radio.

  21. Derek, Good to find you – wondered why the sudden disappearance from Saturday’s GMS.
    Don’t you think the BBC has simply become an Establishment tool with the usual one – way ie “downward” flow of information ? My late father was an officer in the First War and I never heard him say an unkind word about his German adversaries for example, but in the sixties he mentioned to me ( I was too young to really understand ) that he knew as an Orkney lad he could never progress ( he reached the rank of Major ) as he didn’t have the right accent and hadn’t gone to the right school. Listening to the BBC’s choice of military spokesmen today, 100 years later, has anything really changed ? And the same intonations pervade not only the media but politics, FTSE 100, higher management in education, NHS ( England ) etc.
    I live now near Lilliesleaf, which you’ll know, and find attitudes can be somewhat feudal. On discovering I’m eager for Independence a somewhat aristocrat neighbour ( well, he thinks so as he went to a lesser Public School South of the Border ) said that he believes an Edinburgh Government would rapidly establish it’s own London – type succession rules ( children of current SNP ministers becoming MSPs ? ) and that would be just as bad.
    Do you agree as I would not be happy with this ?

  22. The BBC is bad but just watched SKY news on Grangemouth and within 30 seconds we were into what if this happened if Scotland was independent it could not deal with it. We are too wee too stupid etc

  23. So would it be fair to say the massive payouts to departing staff are actually a way of making sure they will sign the gagging document. If there is no discretionary payment then there is no way to silence people.

  24. The attitude you describe seems to be still very much in place. I phoned Reporting Scotland the other night to ask why in the ’round up of headlines’ for that programme a story about an English Coroner’s decision, in a case relating to deaths in a care home in England and which played no part in the broadcast otherwise, was prioritised above the FM’s speech to the SNP conference. “Kevin”, for it was he who answered, said it was none of my business how he would vote in the referendum (???). I agreed wholeheartedly, pointing out that I had never asked him that but rather wanted to know about the ‘slant’ of the coverage. I then made the mistake of asking if he had ever heard of “Derek Bateman” because your blog had raised concerns about the relationship of senior staff with the Labour Party. “Kevin” replied that he wasn’t going to talk to me, that his wife was waiting to take him home for his tea and that he was going to hang up on me; which he did. ‘Nuff said, I think!

  25. Who the feck’s this Kevin? How about this? You were on the other side of a contemptuous phones operator put in place by the BBC to handle stroppy jocks?

    Let’s ditch this situation ever happening again. Utter contempt. It”s basic sales marketing that you recognise the impact made by the character answering your company’s phone and make sure you avoid like the plague. Or you really don’t give a shit, which we all know is the actuality. Do not call them again, you’re wasting both your time and goodwill.

    The bbc is finished for Scotland.

  26. Derek, like many, I also  believe the BBC in Scotland are beyond redemption. As a powerful UK state organ of propaganda the BBC in Scotland, as far as news & current affairs is concerned, is a wholly distorted and distrusted source. AS on Radio 4 post Grangemouth… TWAO – an embarrassing set of state sponsored questions.  

    As an ex-employe it’s reasonable to see why you take a wider and more compassionate view of the BBC. Of course thee are good people their. But it only takes a few good people to do nothing for evil to prevail.

    What the BBC needs is a The Truth and Reconciliation Commission with a mandate to learn the truth about what has happened to create such an insidious and distrusted state institution. Such a Commission is unlikely to save the imploding reputation of the BBC in Scotland but it may provide the means of actually saving the BBC. The years of Savile abuses enabled by a complicit BBC (complicit by an outrages arrogance of cultural superiority) shine a light upon the, perhaps unwitting, evil at the core of the BBC’s senior management and the practices tolerated by far too many onlookers. Stupidity is no excuse for what was allowed to fester unchecked within the BBC for far too long. Hence the suggestion of a Commission – also the police “now have” much of the background material needed to evidence all the areas where Truth and Reconciliation are urgently needed. Now! 

    One wonders, Who will champion this establishment of such a Commission?

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