Case 045 - News Media

by Laurie Mayer

© Mail on Sunday

Last week, I finally saw the reality of BBC Director-general Greg Dyke's 'Cut the crap, make it happen' vision of the future.

I dared to stand up against the temper tantrums, bullying and climate of fear at what is supposed to be the corporation's flagship local news station and was unceremoniously sacked.

As the senior journalist on the BBC's South East Today, I felt I had no choice but to make a stand. I had seen too many young people reduced to tears by stress, intimidation and deep frustration. My conscience wouldn't allow me to keep quiet.

After my complaints were ignored by the local managers, I took my concerns all the way to Greg Dyke himself. They fell on deaf ears. It is shameful and shocking that the BBC at all levels can be told what's going on and yet allow it to continue.

Fourteen months ago, I was appointed to be presenter of the new evening programme for the South East. A team of bright, keen young journalists were recruited to operate a futuristic, all-electronic newsroom in Tunbridge Wells. We were the multi-skilled guinea pigs who would test and operate brand-new technology that would eventually be rolled out through the whole of the BBC.

After a 30-year career in television - I presented the BBC Breakfast News, have read the BBC's One O'Clock and Six O'Clock news and was a Sky News anchorman - this was an exciting new challenge for me.

In charge of the operation was Laura Ellis, Mr Dyke's loyal apparatchik. She trotted out Dyke's mantras of corporate change. "Management isn't about control, it's about inspiring people, it's about leadership" is one such phrase. She sprouts platitudes like "dissent is obligatory" and "no-one will be disadvantaged by telling the truth".

But her rhetoric has turned out to be hollow. At her little corner of the BBC, dissent is ruthlessly stamped upon. The management at Tunbridge Wells - Laura Ellis, output editor Rod Beards and his assistant editor (and fiancée) Davina Reynolds - operate a nasty, vindictive climate of fear.

In truth, the brave new world of the BBC can be a terrifying place to work. I saw able, keen young staff reduced to nervous wrecks. Shouting, screaming, vile swear-words and the banging of fists appear to have taken over from the liberal, tolerant tenets of the BBC I used to love.

As the oldest and most experienced journalist, I became something of an agony uncle to the youngsters. They felt they had no-one else to turn to because of the close relationship between the two senior managers, who are soon to be married.

The BBC trumpets the fact that it values its staff, but nothing is more calculated to make people feel worthless than having no-one they can turn to who will listen to them and act accordingly.

It was not uncommon for people to be found in the toilets in tears. the stories they told me were deeply distressing. Several have been on long-term sick leave and have been treated for stress because of the vitriolic abuse they have had to endure.

One woman is openly called "that bitch" by her superiors, who loudly complain that they must find a way to get rid of her. If anyone so much raised an eyebrow in dissent, they were told that their careers in television were over.

If they tried to air their grievance through official channels, they were told that senior managers approved of the tough new regime. They were sidelined - singled out for menial duties, unsocial shifts and patronising insults. It was a poisonous climate of fear and retribution.

There is only one way to deal with a bully and that is to stand up to them. Over the past year I have been to a whole range of senior managers and made my views known. Now, I have been told to pack my bags, go on holiday and not bother to return to
BBC South East again.

Of course, it didn't quite happen in such a straightforward manner. I was set up. Fifteen minutes before I was due on air, Laura Ellis - who didn't normally speak to me - summoned me to her office where I was told out of the blue that the ratings were 'terrible' and
I was to blame.

I asked to see the figures but was told it would not be 'appropriate' to show me. I do not believe that any such evidence exists. the incident left me speechless and quite unable to present the programme.

Characteristically, they are now trying to use this engineered incident against me. They lied to staff about my departure, telling them that I left with only a few weeks to go on my contract and had always planned to pursue other interests.

In fact, I had four months left on my contract and I didn't quit. I have been house-hunting in Kent for months because I wanted to live nearer the studio. I was forced to go because I stood up for the staff.

Laura Ellis, of course, is rarely at of the station, she is too busy lecturing BBC executives on the art of leadership and rolling out
the bandwagon of Mr Dyke's dangerous 'Cut the Crap' slogan.

Her representatives on earth are the weak Mr Beards and his splenetic fiancée Davina Reynolds who Ellis promoted after staff began to complain in hordes about her autocratic, abusive management style.

But what does "cutting the crap" really mean? Certainly in Tunbridge Wells it is being used by faceless bureaucrats to suppress legitimate debate. It is obvious that Ellis's new model for a multi-skilled future must be made to work at any cost.

Anybody who raises an objection is labelled a 'whinger', which is the worst insult possible in Dykes' new BBC. They will go to any lengths to shut people up. They offered money to people to go quietly, they tried to tell me not to talk to 'whingers' and 'troublemakers'.

Many of the staff are now desperate to get out and some are pursuing grievances through official channels. Their chances of success are remote with management at every level willing to back up each other's story. One National Union of Journalists representative was berated, harried and marginalised until she went off on long-term sick leave.

The situation is quite intolerable. When I complained to Andy Griffee, Ellis's boss, about the culture of bullying, he told me there had never been a single complaint. Yet union officials have a bulging dossier of incidents about the station that have been discussed at length with the BBC hierarchy. When Mr Griffee visited the station recently, he was kept well away from the staff in case they complained.

Under this regime, individual initiative and creativity are stifled. Energy and hope drain away. Sullen obedience and dull uniformity are the order of the day and the viewer is short-changed because the quality of programmes suffer. Is this what Greg Dyke wants?

I am angry at the injustice and feel that Mr Dyke is probably the only man who can stop the rot. But he must act now before any more bright and talented young people have their lives and careers blighted.

Greg Dyke never answered my email, it was passed instead to Pat Loughrey, Andy Griffee's boss and the grandly-titled Director of Nations and Regions. He thanked me and applauded my courage in coming forward.

But perhaps I should have saved my breath. It seems that in the modern BBC it's the whistleblower who gets wasted.

Text by Laurie Mayer.

© Mail on Sunday

 

Update

Presenter who blew whistle on 'bullying' at BBC fights his sacking

Veteran Broadcaster Laurie Mayer took on the might of the BBC yesterday as he claimed he was unfairly sacked after standing up for junior staff who were bullied.

And he came face to face with Laura Ellis, the young boss he claimed caused a "vindictive climate of fear". It is thought to be the first time the pair have met since his sacking from the BBC's South East Today programme in June last year.

Mayer - a former main bulletin newsreader and one of the best-known faces of the BBC - claims he was fired by Mrs Ellis after highlighting a culture of 'intimidation'.

He styles himself the 'whistleblower who got wasted' and describes Mrs Ellis, the head of regional and local programmes, as a 'loyal apparatchik' of Director-General Greg Dyke. Mayer, 56, says she was often 'too busy lecturing executives on the art of leadership and rolling out Dyke's "Cut the Crap" slogan'.

At a preliminary hearing yesterday in Ashford, Kent, BBC lawyers attempted to have Mayer's case thrown out on the grounds that he had not been a corporation 'employee or worker'. Instead he was 'hired talent' and the BBC was merely 'one of his customers'.

But this claim was rejected and the case will go to a full tribunal.

Mayer told the hearing that he had worked for the BBC on a freelance basis for almost 30 years and had fronted Breakfast News as well as the One O'Clock and Six O'Clock bulletins. He joined Sky TV and also worked as PR man for Harrods owner Mohammed Al Fayed before returning to the BBC two years ago when he was hired to present a futuristic 'all-electronic' South East Today news programme.

He became unhappy about a 'bullying culture' within the newsroom at Tunbridge Wells and after 14 months he was sacked - he claims after standing up for younger members of staff.

In an article for the Mail on Sunday, written after his contract was terminated, he said: 'The brave new world of the BBC can be a terrifying place to work. I saw able, keen young staff reduced to nervous wrecks. I became something of an agony uncle to the youngsters. They felt they had no-one else to turn to.'

He claimed complaints were ignored by managers and when he wrote to Greg Dyke his concerns 'fell on deaf ears'.

Much of Mayer's anger was directed at Mrs Ellis, who 'trotted out Dyke's mantra of corporate change,' he said. 'She spouts platitudes like 'dissent is obligatory' and 'no-one will be disadvantaged by telling the truth'. But her rhetoric turned out to be hollow. 'At her little corner of the BBC dissent is ruthlessly stamped upon.'

BBC counsel Gerard Clark insisted yesterday that Mayer was a 'self-employed sole trader'. He added: 'We would argue that he was a talent who was hired and in that case he was not an employee or worker but that the BBC was his client or customer.'

Mrs Ellis, who is in her 30s, told the hearing that Mayer was a 'show and go' presenter. She said staff presenters would contribute more to planning issues within the newsroom, and suggested that Mayer would simply arrive at the TV studio, present his programme, and then leave.

But Mayer himself told the hearing: 'I had an assigned desk, my own pigeon hole for post, my name on email circulation and my contact details on the staff list.' His counsel Damian Brown said: 'He signed a standard BBC contract and the corporation had the first claim on his services.

'He was integrated into the BBC and had his own line manager. He signed a contract on the BBC's terms and they had the power in the relationship - they were not a customer or client.'

Tribunal chairman Mrs Frances Spencer ruled that Mayer had won his application to a full hearing. 'We find that Mr Mayer was both a worker and an employee', she said.

After the hearing the presenter said: 'I am delighted that I have overcome the first hurdle. Obviously there is a long way to go and we travel on in hope.'

© Daily Mail


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