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Complaints of the BBC’s “institutional racism” from MPs and BBC staff are set to dominate Tim Davie’s first DCMS parliamentary select committee appearance as director general.

The claims are laid bare in the Eastern Eye following an exposé it published last week – Davie’s first in office.

Following an FOI request, the newspaper found that between 2005 and the end of 2010, 16 people filed claims for racial discrimination. The BBC settled five cases without admitting liability.

Writing for the paper today, former BBC head of religion Aaqil Ahmed echoed David Olusoga’s cry for the “lost generation” of BAME TV talent in the presenter and producer’s MacTaggart lecture.

'Last-chance saloon'

Sympathising with Davie, Ahmed said there needed to be “real accountability for failure” to retain talented people of colour.

Initiatives, he said, “can only succeed if the people in­volved are genuine and the changes are authentic and lived by all, not just talked about in a few meet­ings or trotted out to fight a fire that will be forgot­ten about when the next blaze needs putting out”.

Ahmed said that in terms of the industry cleaning up its act, it was now “last-chance saloon time”.

Meanwhile, in a letter to the select committee from Labour MP for Brent Central, Dawn Butler, said: “I believe the substantive allegations in Eastern Eye suggest we have a problem in an institution which is publicly owned and should be held to account.”

Senior parliamentarians as well as Asian and black journalists have demanded an independent public inquiry into allegations that the BBC is “systemically, structurally and institutionally racist”.

Labour MP for Slough and shadow railways minister Tan Dhesi said: “The testimony from former and current staff is gut-wrenching. It paints a picture of pain and mental health impact which simply can’t go on. Racism has no part in our country or in our public institutions and it cannot be tolerated.

“It is time that the BBC is held to account and for someone to independently investigate these serious allegations.”

Claudia Webbe, Labour’s MP for Leicester East, and shadow employment minister and Fel­tham and Heston MP, Seema Malhotra, also voiced their concerns.

'Listening exercises' 

Davie has told BBC staff he plans to create a “modern 50/20/12 organisation” that reflects “more accurately the society we serve” – with an even gender split, at least 20% BAME and 12% disabled staff.

Since the death of George Floyd in May, the BBC has been holding a series of diversity ‘listening exercises’ between management and staff.

Eastern Eye claimed the BBC attempted to silence those who complained about racism by inserting a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) clause into their settlements forbidding them from criticising the BBC.

The corporation is understood to have stopped this policy in August 2018, in relation to the terms and negotiations of or existence of a settlement agreement, or the circumstances leading up to its agreement.

Bectu has asked Marcus Ryder, a visiting professor at Birmingham City University and a former BBC executive, to investigate and suggest how to combat this problem.

“Right now, there isn’t a safe place where those Eastern Eye has spoken to, who have faced racism, to go to have their experiences heard,” said Ryder. “There’s no place which is systematically recording these incidents so that broadcasters can learn from their experiences. The industry can’t exist on the goodwill of editors at Eastern Eye to capture what people are going through.”

External scrutiny

Bectu head Philippa Childs has written to Davie asking him to meet broadcast unions urgently to tackle the problems.

“We’re past the point where broadcasters can deal with this themselves and we have to have external and independent scrutiny,” said Childs. “I’m shocked that employees feel their reputation will be damaged if they seek help from their union, and I’m surprised by the blatant and casual racism they’re suffering.”

A BBC spokesperson told the Eastern Eye: “We have a zero tolerance approach to bullying and harassment, of any kind, and that is why we have robust processes in place for staff to raise complaints, which are dealt with the utmost seriousness.”

Anonymous quotes from BBC staff:

“Colleagues asked why it was fine to tweet and go on climate change and pride marches, but they couldn’t openly support the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement? The manager replied that climate change and homophobia were real, racism was not.”

“Everything the BBC says about diversity, equality and respect is crap. It has rules, guidelines and ambitions. Mangers give us talks, but don’t follow up with deeds.”

“We’ve been here so often, taken to the mountain top and jumped off without a parachute. It just won’t happen. Davie won’t be allowed to change the ethnic make-up of the BBC at leadership level. The gatekeepers want the status quo, they don’t want to see brown or black people with real power.”

“The BBC are very good at these flash announcements, but when you look under the bonnet, you realise it has no engine.”
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