Sunday, October 01, 2006

A breath of fresh air

The following submission was received by Pro-Veritas from a verified email account used by BBC Monitoring staff.

For the first time ever, a senior manager at BBC Monitoring has received a round of applause from staff - ordinary staff, not people specially selected for their posterior-licking qualities. The hero of the day was Brian Rotheray, joint head of the Business Development & Customer Relations department. The occasion was a presentation on the outcome of a review of products undertaken in the light of a substantial cut in funding by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, one of the sponsors of BBC Monitoring.

Why was he applauded? We know little about Mr Rotheray, other than that he is a pragmatist who appears to shun hyperbole, propaganda and bullshit in favour of getting on with his job. He has not become known to us through grievances issued against him by his staff, and he seems to have avoided being soiled through membership of Christopher Westcott’s “Culture Club”.

But we don’t think these are the reasons for the applause given to Mr Rotheray. After all, he is a member of Mr Westcott ‘s “Direction” team and must, therefore, take his share of responsibility for the many ill-conceived decisions of that team.

Rather, the answer can be found in everything that Mr Westcott stands for - in other words, everything that is wrong with BBC Monitoring. Ever since that fateful day on 1 April 2003, when he was appointed Director of BBC Monitoring, Mr Westcott has deluged staff with his tedious, vacuous, meaningless yapping about culture and the evil of distrust in his “leadership”. Staff have grown sick and tired of his Pol Potian vision of a “Year Zero” where no one ever questions or complains or criticises but salutes, applauds and curtsies at every opportunity. They have had enough of his double talk, his impatience with anyone who challenges him, his summary dismissal of any idea other than his and his thinly-veiled meanness. They have yearned and yearned for real direction, for real leadership, for someone to tell them exactly what is being asked of them.

Enter Mr Rotheray with his presentation. Concise and full of substance. No propaganda or bullshit. Not one superfluous word. No self-praise. Delivered with modesty, courtesy and humour. And, throughout the presentation, he established a rapport with his audience.

No doubt, this post will upset Mr Westcott and his chief flunky, Peter “The Invisible” Robertson, who will be consumed with jealousy. No doubt also, the cynics will say that our intention is to sow discord within the “Direction” team. That is not our intention but, if our comments do result in discord within “Direction”, then what can we say? Bon appetit?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Legend of Dynamo Peter

The following submission was received by Pro-Veritas from a verified email account used by BBC Monitoring staff.

Something earth shattering has happened at BBC Monitoring.

Just as the cynics were gloating at the new depths of indecision, half decisions and futile gestures to which BBC Monitoring had sunk under the captainship of Christopher Westcott, his hapless consultants and his hangers on, the unthinkable happened. Amid the tedious taunts of “I told you so” following yet another failure by senior management to match some 60 potentially redundant staff with about 60 unfilled posts, Peter Robertson walked in, fresh from a long holiday and ready for action.

Known affectionately as “Dynamo Peter” because of his limitless energy, his reputation for burning the midnight oil and his obsessive attention to detail, Mr Robertson had ended the “summer term” at a low ebb, having failed to make himself known to almost any of his staff - baggage he had inherited when he became head of the Geographic Group.

However, rejuvenated and refuelled after several weeks of holiday, Dynamo Peter was clearly determined to recoup his fearsome reputation and to make up for having missed at least two important milestones in Mr Westcott’s campaign to eradicate the culture of BBC Monitoring.

Like a military genius, Dynamo Peter chose his time and location carefully and, the truth has to be said, struck where his detractors least expected him to strike.

The day was Wednesday 30 August 2006, a day that will be inscripted on the listed walls of BBC Monitoring’s headquarters at Caversham, a day that will be celebrated as the beginning of the end of indecision and prevarication at this remote outpost of the BBC’s Global News Division. The location was the West Wing gallery area. The occasion was the last old-style 10:00 a.m. “Operational Meeting”.

We have no eyewitness account of the momentous event, such was the skill with which it was delivered - a cruise missile fired from a Stealth bomber, to use a military example. However, below is what we have been able to gather from the bits and pieces of evidence left behind (as with all momentous, historic events, facts inevitably get mixed up with fiction, so we must allow for the possibility of a degree of myth as the Legend of Dynamo Peter unfolds).

Here is what appears to have happened: As the august meeting got under way, the jaded editors started trembling as someone whispered, “A figure resembling Dynamo Peter appears to be heading this way.” A sudden, eerie fall in temperature confirmed that that figure was indeed Dynamo Peter. The fearsome Head of the Geographic Group entered the meeting area, sat on the periphery and then suddenly began to deliver words of wisdom. Almost simultaneously, the cleaning staff in an adjacent area began using their vacuum cleaning machines. Not a word of wisdom could be heard. Dynamo Peter left the meeting, and the jaded editors started to take their coats off as the temperature began to rise again.

At that point, no one knew that the deed had been done, that Dynamo Peter had struck and left, almost invisibly. Moments later, all was revealed. A simple note in the log said: “Peter Robertson to ask House Services to try to reschedule hoovering in atrium from its normal 1000 slot.”

It was as simple as that. As one editor said, it was like saying: “I have just launched a nuclear missile with a multiple independently-targeted re-entry vehicle at Tilehurst. It’s all quiet now.”

Years of pleas from staff to change the time of the noisy vacuum cleaning had come to nothing, yet one word from Dynamo Peter had made it happen in an instant. On the following day, Thursday 31 August, it was all quiet. The hoovers had fallen silent.

As staff ponder the implications of Dynamo Peter’s strike, the speculation is that the silencing of the hoovers may be the start of a bid by Mr Robertson to replace Christopher Westcott as BBC Monitoring’s top man. In the meantime, his legend is growing by the minute. It is said that posters of Dynamo Peter are selling like hot cakes at a fantastic premium. His silencing of the hoovers has been likened to Donald Rumsfeld’s “shock and awe”, while many female staff can be heard muttering a version of Shaggy’s song, “Not fair”, but substituting “Mr Hoover Man” for “Mr Lover Man”. For most staff, he is quite simply a hybrid of Rumsfeld and Shaggy.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Quiff Restcott goes for job interview

The following submission was received by Pro-Veritas from a verified email account used by BBC Monitoring staff.

It is 1 April 2007. Having decided to move on after four years as head of the British Beetroot Company - Maidenhead (BBCM), the flagship branch of the United Kingdom’s leading beetroot wholesaler, Dr Quiff Restcott has been shortlisted for a post at the British Beetroot Company’s headquarters.

Below is a transcript of Dr Restcott’s interview for the post of Senior Adviser, Directorate for Reject Vegetables.

(Quiff Restcott) Hiya folks!

(Des Stranger - interviewer 1) Dr Quiff Restcott, first of all, let me thank you for coming to this interview. This is a competency-based interview during which we shall be asking you for specific examples from your experience to illustrate your proficiency in each of the required competencies. We expect the interview to last for 45 minutes. How would you like us to address you?

(Quiff Restcott) Doctor.

(Interviewer 1) Doctor, I’d like you to give us an example to highlight your ability to make balanced and objective judgements based on a thorough understanding of our guidelines for growing, displaying and marketing our vegetables.

(Quiff Restcott) Thank you. I am really, really glad that you’ve asked me this question. I believe this is a question which touches on the very essence of the British Beetroot Company - its ability to build on the very strong foundations that I have laid for it and to prosper into the second decade of this Millennium. In fact, just the other day - at the last meeting of the Central Committee of BBCM to be chaired by my good self - we spent the entire meeting discussing the need to develop the ability of all managers - members of the Central Committee, leaders at all levels of the branch and ordinary members of staff - to make objective judgements based on a thorough understanding of our guidelines for growing, displaying and marketing our vegetables. So, your asking me this question is not only fortuitous, but is also timely and demonstrates your awareness of key issues and challenges facing our great company.

(Noel Bite - interviewer 2) Doctor, I’d like to ask you about your planning and organising skills. Can you give us an example to demonstrate your ability to think ahead, prioritise and plan activities?

(Quiff Restcott) The whole issue of forward planning and prioritisation is so important that, if you didn't ask me about it, I would have asked you to ask me about it. I don’t think I would be exaggerating to say that this, together with the ability to make balanced and objective judgements, is so vital that our great organisation’s future would be in serious jeopardy if we did not give it serious thought and allocate appropriate resources to allow our capability in this regard to develop, prosper and exceed any combination of similar capabilities of existing, potential and conceivable future competitors. So, Noel, full marks for asking me about it. Thank you!

(Stepan Welly - interviewer 3) Doctor, I’d like you to give us two examples that show your ability to get your message understood. Please choose examples to highlight how you have used a range of styles, tools and techniques appropriate to the audience and the nature of the information you were communicating.

(Quiff Restcott) Yes, certainly. I think it’s obvious to everyone in this room that, without clear and effective communications, we might as well throw our vegetables away, pack up and go home. It’s as simple and as important as that. You know, global 3G subscribers have passed the 100 million mark – this a rate of growth that exceeds that of the first-generation of mobiles in the 1990s. It’s projected that there will be 210 million mobile TV subscribers in 2011, with 10 per cent of all mobile handsets then sold containing a broadcast receiver. Nielsen Media Research - the US based TV audience tracking company - has plans to track TV viewing on the web and on mobile phones. As MSN looks to launch a rival site to YouTube, the site serves up 100 million videos a day. I can give you dozens more examples but I think I have made the point.

(Interviewer 1) Doctor, looking back to your most recent post, can you give us two examples to illustrate your ability to present sound and well-reasoned arguments to convince others. Please choose examples where you have used a range of strategies to persuade people in a way that resulted in desirable behaviour change.

(Quiff Restcott) I think it was Pol Pot who said that culture is the bedrock of behavioural change. He was, of course, right then and he is still right now. But it’s only right and proper that we should pause now in order to reach the right and proper conclusion that change should be undertaken only, and I stress only, if it is change in the right direction. And you should ask, and its perfectly correct to ask at this juncture, whether we are now equipped with the right tools to reach an objective definition of the right direction. I am sure we all agree that the issue is not just one of possession of the appropriate tools for the right direction but, and its a very crucial but, are we actually ready for the right direction? Of course, this takes us back straight to the question of culture. I don’t think I need to spell it out, but communications, as you are well aware, is right at the heart of all this. Yes, as Mengistu Haile Mariam said, it’s communications, communications, communications.

(Interviewer 2) Doctor, we’d like to ask you about your skills in managing relationships and team working. Please give us an example to illustrate your ability to build and maintain effective, cooperative working relationships with a range of people.

(Quiff Restcott) I see culture writ large on this question. Without the right culture, it’s inconceivable to have effective working relationships as the British Beetroot Company prepares to enter the second decade of this Millennium. So, you are absolutely right to ask me about this. Well done!

(Interviewer 3) Doctor, we have finally come to our last question. We’d like you to give us an example that highlights your ability to manage your emotions in the face of pressure or set backs, or when dealing with provocative situations.

(Quiff Restcott) Yes, absolutely and it’s only right and proper that you should ask me this. Let me just very briefly give you an insight into my resilience by explaining why I am called Quiff when it’s as plain as plain can be that I have no quiff. To be precise, I had a quiff, and I wore it right up until the late 1980s - that’s how I acquired the nickname “Quiff”. In the end I abandoned it in the face of adverse comments from my colleagues and members of the public. But simultaneously I changed my name by deed poll to Quiff, so that the name can serve as a constant reminder of the cost of not changing with the times. In fact, change, has become my motto ever since, and I would like change - permanent change - to be the norm in the British Beetroot Company’s Directorate for Reject Vegetables.

(Interviewer 1) Doctor, thank you. We expect to be in a position to tell you the outcome of this interview by the end of the month.

(Quiff Restcott) Thanks to you. You’re spot on with all your questions, which goes to show that you are all well aware of the challenges facing our great company. So, well done boys!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The story of the Westcottian Vision

The following submission was received by Pro-Veritas from a verified email account used by BBC Monitoring staff.

Christopher Westcott, the Director of BBC Monitoring, has a vision. It is not as visionary as Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream...” nor as profound as Pol Pot’s vision of Kampuchea in the Year Zero, although it has other elements of the latter. Rather, it is a modest vision - one that will be constructed by a committee.

The Westcottian “Vision” is set out in a document called "’Telling the Story in 2010' a.k.a the Vision”. In true visionary language, it sets the scene for the "Vision", defining its purpose as “to provide a documented baseline for the initiation of the ‘Vision/Story’ project”!

“Telling the story” is roughly what it is all about. In fact, it is about telling a story. According to the document, “the Vision” project will

  • ”Provide a coherent description of the future through describing BBCM in 2010

  • Provide a checklist of what will be different (and the same) in 2010

  • Set out a sequence of milestones describing key elements of the journey between 2006 and 2010.”

In what seems to be a misunderstanding of what journalists mean when they refer to a story, the Westcottian “Vision” project says:

“Being part of a creative, journalistic organisation, staff ascribe a high level of importance to ‘telling the story’ as a means of helping us all understand the future of the business and our part in it.

“This project has therefore been developed to tell that narrative in a manner which is inspiring, aspirational yet grounded in reality, allows us all to assess where we are in ‘the story’ and which gives many of us the opportunity to participate in its telling.”

Relaying the narrative of events that have not actually happened is, in our understanding, tantamount to telling a story, as in a bedtime story or a novel.

To be sure, bedtime stories and novels are both functional - helping many children sleep soundly and giving adults a means of escapism - and also an integral part of culture. This appears to have been well understood by Mr Westcott, who whets our appetite with tantalising teasers from the story that is to be told. In his “Vision” document, he outlines elements of the story - also called “deliverables” - as follows:

  • "Engaging, illustrative examples of what our future will look and feel like, which will spark:

  • An ongoing debate inside of BBCM of factors impacting our future, rather than decisions which impacted our past, which in turn will provide:

  • Demonstrable (through metrics) engagement of staff/stakeholders in the change programme."

If the appetite-whetting deliverables are the barebones of the novel, what about the flesh? Do we have any hint of what the plot will be? Here, too, Mr Westcott has been more than forthcoming. For the past few months he has been dishing out bits and pieces of visionary information - randomly-chosen sentences of the story that has yet to be told, perhaps, or the “birth pangs” of the new novel, as Condoleezza Rice would put it.

So, at the end of the July briefing, suddenly came these visionary gems, without explanation and without any pointers as to how they might impact on the work of BBC Monitoring:

  • ”Global 3G subscribers passed the 100 million mark in June - this a rate of growth that exceeds that of the first generation of mobiles in the 1990s;

  • It’s projected that there will be 210 million mobile TV subscribers in 2011 with 10% of all mobile handsets then sold containing a broadcast receiver...

  • Video site YouTube now allows its users to build their own TV “channels” in a manner reminiscent of iTunes playlists;

  • The International Herald Tribune is to carry stories written by members of the public following a deal with the Korean website Ohmynews...”

And more of the same ilk came at the end of the August briefing:
  • ”As MSN looks to launch a rival site to YouTube, the site serves up 100 million videos a day...

  • At the end of May there were 420 million mobile subscribers in China while the growth of voice over wireless LANs saw more than 100% increase in the Wi-Fi phone market in 2005...”

As to who will tell the story, well, it won't be storytellers specially recruited for their oratory skills, nor will it be Mr Westcott. The story of the Westcottian "Vision" will be told by "interested members of staff" who have been approached or recruited to "participate in fleshing out 'the story'".

There is a comforting thought in all of this. The late John Lennon once said that some of his best lyrics emerged from sentences written on individual bits of paper and put together at random. So, maybe Mr Westcott is on to something here. Let's hope it won't start like

He's a real nowhere Man,
Sitting in his Nowhere Land,
Making all his nowhere plans
for nobody.

Doesn't have a point of view,
Knows not where he's going to...

He's as blind as he can be,
Just sees what he wants to see,
Nowhere Man can you see me at all?

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Global News guru to visit BBC Monitoring

The following submission was received by Pro-Veritas from a verified email account used by BBC Monitoring staff.

Richard Sambrook, the Director of the BBC’s Global News Division, is to visit BBC Monitoring on Tuesday 1 August.

The Global News Division is made up of BBC World Service radio, BBC Monitoring, BBC World television and the BBC's international facing online news services.

In an email to BBC Monitoring staff, Christopher Westcott, the current Director of Monitoring, said that Mr Sambrook “wants to get out and about and meet as many of you as possible - he'll also be hosting an open Q&A at 1330-1430 BST in the Conference Room”. We encourage as many staff as possible to attend the question-and-answer session, which we hope will not be attended by Mr Westcott or any of his so-called “Executive Direction” colleagues.

We welcome Mr Sambrook’s desire to meet staff - a desire which stands in sharp contrast to other BBC bosses who on previous visits to Monitoring almost invariably contented themselves with hiding in the Director’s office, except for brief cameo appearances here and there on the shop floor.

But Mr Sambrook is no typical BBC boss. In his previous life, as head of BBC News, he stood up to the bullying of Tony Blair and his spokesman, Alastair Campbell, during the Andrew Gilligan affair in 2003. Together with the then Director-General of the BBC, Greg Dyke, he showed courage and principle - extremely rare commodities in people at his level in the BBC.

It is our sincere desire that Mr Sambrook will show similar courage and principle during his visit to BBC Monitoring and challenge Mr Westcott on all the issues that we have aired in our postings on this blog, in particular "J’Accuse" and "The reality of cultural transformation at BBC Monitoring".

Monday, July 24, 2006

Racism at BBC Monitoring?

The following submission was received by Pro-Veritas from a verified email account used by BBC Monitoring staff.

Over the past few weeks we have received numerous emails alleging racism at BBC Monitoring. Many of the emails came from staff who do not belong to our group, the Dissident Majority. Most were sent by people who can be described as white English - not Scots, Welsh or white European, nor the Africans, Afghans, Arabs, Central Asians, Kurds, Persians, peoples of the Caucasus or the other nationalities that have been excluded from BBC Monitoring’s upper echelons.

The most worrying of the the emails we have received are those which allege a certain source of the purported racism. Most disconcerting of all are those that give specific details, including the name and political affiliations - past and present - of an individual member of staff. The name of that member of staff is repeated in almost every email.

We have made no secret of our deep concern regarding the failure of BBC Monitoring’s Director, Christopher Westcott, to reflect Monitoring’s myriad nationalities at senior level, a failure that has generated suspicion amongst many staff that there is a hidden agenda to turn BBC Monitoring into a “white redoubt”. We had left it open to speculation that this may be due to institutional racism, to subconscience racism on the part of senior managers at BBC Monitoring or even to a deliberate policy to turn Monitoring into a reflection of some of its UK government stakeholders.

What we had not entertained, or did not not want to believe, was that the emerging white redoubt at BBC Monitoring was there because of explicit racism on the part of specific individuals, coupled perhaps with subconscience racism, ignorance, naivety, indifference or sheer stupidity on the part of those whose job it is to ensure that the scourge of racism does not raise its ugly head at the BBC, of all places.

The specific allegations about the existence of racists and racism at BBC Monitoring have put us in a very delicate situation. On the one hand, we have an obligation to expose racism and to name and shame racists. But, at the same time, we do not wish to libel anyone without sufficient, incontrovertible evidence to justify our charges - evidence that would stand up in court. Furthermore, as a clandestine group, we do not wish to expose ourselves as members of the Dissident Majority of BBC Monitoring and face the wrath of Mr Westcott and his cohorts.

Consequently, the Steering Committee of the Dissident Majority of BBC Monitoring was mandated unanimously by members of the group to work out a programme of action to address the allegations regarding racists and racism at Monitoring. To this end, the committee held a meeting with members of the legal firms that had kindly offered to assist us free of charge. We agreed on the following steps:

    1. To appeal to all BBC Monitoring staff, whether or not they are members of our group,

    • to send us additional specific evidence of racism and racist behaviour at BBC Monitoring, both in Caversham and the overseas units,

    • to send us specific evidence regarding the affiliation of any member of staff, whether or not they are in management, to racist political groups such as the British National Party and its predecessor, the National Front.

    Please send your evidence by email either to us directly or to Pro-Veritas.

    2. In the event of our receiving sufficient concrete evidence indicating that there are racists or racism at BBC Monitoring, we shall put this evidence formally to the highest level at the BBC and give them a reasonable deadline by which they will have to respond to our allegations.

    3. Should the BBC acknowledge that there are racists and racism at BBC Monitoring, we shall ask them to make public their acknowledgement of the problem and of the measures they intend to take to eradicate it, including a timeframe for action.

    4. If, in the light of the evidence we put to them, the BBC fail to acknowledge that there are racists and racism at BBC Monitoring or give an inadequate response, then the Dissident Majority of BBC Monitoring and their legal team will do the following:

      (a) Report the matter to the Commission for Racial Equality

      (b) Inform the national media of our allegations and of the fact that we had given the BBC a reasonable opportunity to address the problem

      (c) Hold a press conference at a location in central London at which we shall give details of our allegations and of the BBC’s response. The press conference will be chaired by a top UK barrister and will include several former members of BBC Monitoring acting on behalf of existing members of staff, who cannot go public for fear of retribution.

      (d) Consider further action which we do not wish to publicise at this juncture.

Owing to an irretrievable breakdown in trust in Mr Westcott, the Steering Committee of the Dissident Majority of BBC Monitoring, with the backing of our legal advisers, decided not to enter into a dialogue with him on this or any other matter.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The art of not being straight

The following submission was received by Pro-Veritas from a verified email account used by BBC Monitoring staff.

Pol Pot tried it in Cambodia and failed, with catastrophic results for the people of Cambodia. Christopher Westcott thinks he can succeed in BBC Monitoring where Pol Pot failed in Cambodia. He, too, will fail, and his actions will probably result in the eventual closure or massive shrinkage of BBC Monitoring, unless his superiors and Monitoring’s stakeholders wise up to what he is doing.

What Pol Pot and Mr Westcott have in common is, first, a desire to obtain the unanimous support of those over whom they have authority and, second, the method of choice, coercion - in the case of Pol Pot, the threat of incarceration or death and, in the case of Mr Westcott, the threat of redundancy or dismissal.

For two years since his appointment on 1 April 2003 as Director of BBC Monitoring, Mr Westcott could only watch in frustration as staff survey after staff survey showed that he is as distrusted as his peers elsewhere in the BBC and his predecessors in BBC Monitoring. However, whereas his peers and predecessors simply shrugged this off, for Mr Westcott this was intolerable.

For most staff at BBC Monitoring, too, the almost universal lack of trust in Mr Westcott and most of his managers is also intolerable. As with any decent, professional people anywhere, they, too, would prefer to be led by managers whom they trusted. For two years, they waited for Mr Westcott to take measures to restore staff trust in management, for instance, by meaningfully addressing the problems of bullying and harassment and by putting an end to the ceaseless, tedious squabbling among his top managers. But he did nothing.

It is said that Mr Westcott’s excuse was that his hands were tied while BBC Monitoring was undergoing reviews as a result of the decision by one of its stakeholders, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO), to slash its share of funding for Monitoring. As far as many staff are concerned, this is nonsense. Mr Westcott could have acted six months after his appointment in 2003. And he could have acted in the interregnum between the “Cronin” review in 2003-04 and the Cabinet Office review led by Sir Quentin Thomas in August 2004. Even a small gesture would have worked wonders with staff.

We now know that Mr Westcott had never intended to create trust in his management by addressing the causes of distrust. This is clear from his decision to reappoint almost all of the previous managers. Here, too, staff had not been looking for a completely new management board - that would have been impractical and unnecessary. But they did expect certain key changes.

We have speculated elsewhere on this blog as to the possible motives behind Mr Westcott’s determination to eradicate BBC Monitoring’s culture and corporate memory. The catalyst for the demolition job was provided by the £2 million gap between the FCO’s cut in funding and the funds which Monitoring’s other stakeholders were willing to provide to make up for the shortfall. According to management’s statistics, in order to fill this gap, it was necessary to cut between 40 and 80 full-time jobs - the ideal opportunity for Mr Westcott to launch his Cultural Revolution.

It would be futile to speculate as to whether or not Mr Westcott welcomed the £2 million cut in Monitoring’s funding in order to give him an excuse for launching his Cultural Revolution. In the final analysis, a large number of jobs had to be cut to save £2 million. And we all knew that a large part of the cuts had to come out of our bloated middle management.

What we did not expect, however, was that, among those who would be placed on the precipice of redundancy, would be some of Monitoring’s best and most experienced staff. Nor did we expect that the de-selection of middle managers would be so blatantly used as an opportunity to give greater prominence to staff who fit Mr Westcott’s ideal profile for Monitoring’s next generation of “leaders”.

But what came next is, for many staff, the final straw and a glittering example of the hubris of a management that has exceeded itself in the art of not being straight. While everyone expected a reduction in middle management and in the editorial teams covering regions that have now been deemed as low priority by BBC Monitoring’s stakeholders, the wholesale vetting - and possible dismissal - of other, non-managerial staff was never on the cards.

Since April this year, staff had been asked to express their preferences in writing (i.e. whether or not they wished to stay at BBC Monitoring and, if they wished to stay, in which department they would prefer to work). They had been told that the purpose of this was, first, to ascertain who would prefer to take voluntary redundancy and, therefore, avoid the need for compulsory redundancy, and second, in the case of departments that faced substantial cuts, to get an idea of where their staff preferred to work. The expectation had been that, in the latter case, there would be a discussion, or discussions, between staff and managers in order to ponder the most appropriate options for both staff and the organization.

However, surreptitiously, our top managers, for whose actions we must hold Mr Westcott fully responsible, have turned this into a wholesale vetting exercise in which all staff, even those in departments not facing any cuts, are now required to discuss their options with their line managers, even though these options would be known to the managers from the preference exercise. We can only surmise that the sole, hidden purpose of this last-minute sleight of hand is to ensure that, even at sub-management level, no one who does not fit Mr Westcott’s profile of the Obedient Staffer remains at BBC Monitoring.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

"I am Peter Robertson and I am a workaholic"

The following submission was received by Pro-Veritas from a verified email account used by BBC Monitoring staff.

It started with a bang and ended with a whimper.

On 31 May this year, Peter Robertson, of Private Eye fame and trusted lieutenant of BBC Monitoring Director Christopher Westcott, announced to staff: "This week marks the start of my new role as Head of the Geographic Group, bringing together Magellan, Gagarin and all the international operations into one editorial structure. I feel excited, proud and privileged to be given the opportunity to lead such dedicated and professional people and well aware of the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead."

For readers who are not acquainted with the peculiarities of BBC Monitoring, "Gagarin" was the editorial department covering the former Soviet Union, whilst "Magellan" was its equivalent for the rest of the world. Formerly known as Operational Groups A and B, they had acquired their quaint names four years earlier at the behest of none other than the selfsame Mr Robertson.

The triumphal announcement of 31 May was followed by what many staff interpreted as a wake-up call, a warning that they were about to be led by a man of action. "From now on the main Listening Room will be known as the Operations Room to reflect more accurately the variety of activities that take place there and our mission to observe, understand and explain," Mr Robertson told his new subjects in the same email.

As if all this were not enough, he fired what amounted to a warning shot across the bow of all those who had foolishly yearned for a return to some form of cosy stability. “From 5 June, the Operations Meeting held Monday-Friday at 1000 UK time will take place in the Upper West Wing Atrium area." Dynamo Peter has arrived and everyone had better look out!

If anyone had been left in any doubt, their illusions were cruelly, almost violently shattered on 9 June, at the formal inauguration of the top management team. This was basically the same team as the old one but now with a new, snappy name, "Executive Direction", in place of the old, tongue-twisting name, "Direction".

"I am Peter Robertson and I am a workaholic," Mr Robertson announced to a stunned gathering of staff. The silence was deafening as his words echoed from Caversham to the overseas units and back.

Everyone waited in trepidation. What will he do next? The answer finally came on 6 July, a full month after Mr Robertson had burst on to the stage with his admission of workaholism.

"It would be true to say, as some of you have been kind enough to feed back, that I'm not getting around the Operations Room as rapidly as you or I would like," he told staff in an email. And the reason? Mr Robertson wasn’t going to beat about the bush. "Without wallowing in self-pity, I would point out that, in addition to my new responsibilities for eight international offices and 250-plus people, a huge amount of my available time has been take up with job interviews, telling people the results and giving feedback," he explained in the same email.

He omitted to point out that each of the "international offices" is in fact run by a manager and, in the case of the larger offices, a number of middle managers as well, and that the "250-plus people" he referred to are all managed by team leaders. So, his responsibilities may not be as time consuming as he would like to make out.

Dynamo Peter, it would seem, had already ran out of diesel. "Over the next two weeks I ... intend to come to some of your team briefings," he reassured staff but with one big proviso. "I'm afraid it's impossible to make firm promises, and I may not get around to seeing all the teams during this round, but it will happen over time."

It may indeed happen over time. Sometime.

Friday, July 07, 2006

The reality of cultural transformation at BBC Monitoring

The following submission was received by Pro-Veritas from a verified email account used by BBC Monitoring staff.

A dark cloud is hovering over BBC Monitoring. According to staff, who must remain anonymous or else face dire consequences, indifference and hopelessness are reigning supreme throughout Caversham and the overseas units. For readers who are not familiar with BBC Monitoring, this is happening in an organisation which for years has functioned largely due to the goodwill of its staff.

The key to this paradox lies in one word: culture. For some time now, Christopher Westcott, the Director of BBC Monitoring, has made much of the need for “a change of culture”. He has never quite managed to say explicitly which aspects of our culture he wanted to change. However, it is clear from his many utterances that what really troubles him is the fact that, every year, staff surveys show that employees have little trust in the top management team.

Lack of trust in senior management is in fact a recurring theme in staff surveys throughout the BBC, not just in BBC Monitoring. Mr Westcott’s predecessors had taken comfort from the fact that they were not alone in being distrusted by their staff. But Mr Westcott has decided to grab the bull by the horns. He decided, in effect, to issue an ultimatum to staff: either change the culture that grows distrust in me and my managers or else I shall purge you until I get the staff with the right culture - a culture where staff will never question or complain or criticise but salute, applaud and curtsey at every opportunity.

Mr Westcott initially avoided a head-on confrontation with staff over culture and decided instead to adopt a soft approach. So, for nearly a year, from spring 2005 until the reappointment of the old senior management team in April this year, he paid lip service to concerns about mismanagement and pledged that cultural change will be vertical as well as horizontal. But, as with politicians, it is always wise to ignore the words and focus on the deeds. And, surely enough, it did not take long for Mr Westcott’s deeds to expose his real thinking.

First came the summary dismissal of staff in the Central Asia Unit in Tashkent who criticised their manager. Then came the decision in October 2005 to appoint, without competition or boarding, a number of staff to work on a special project. Next came the accidental revelation in April 2006 that those staff had been promoted discreetly and contrary to the spirit of the BBC’s Fair Selection policy. After that came the failure, after being found out, to disclose the reasons or criteria for the discreet promotions. Then came the emphasis on behavioural and cultural change in the model for BBC Monitoring in 2010 (presentations to staff, 17 and 24 November 2005), followed by the reappointment of the old top management team, which put paid to Mr Westcott’s pledge that cultural change will be vertical as well as horizontal. This was followed by appointments to newly-created senior positions that failed to reflect BBC Monitoring’s myriad nationalities. Finally, came the eradication of experienced staff and corporate memory from middle managament and, most recently, a surreptitious attempt to vet all non-managerial staff before reconfirming them in their existing jobs.

The cumulative effect of all this has been the transformation of the culture of goodwill that had enabled BBC Monitoring to function through years of mismanagement to collective indifference and despondency.

But that is not all. It would seem that the problem of the new culture may be deeper and more far reaching than indicated by the litany of misdeeds noted above. For whilst Mr Westcott’s determination to stamp out staff distrust of the top management team can be explained by his desire to stand out as the only “trusted” manager at his level in the BBC, this does not explain his apparent indifference to the fact that his actions are actually alienating the vast majority of staff and, therefore, will generate even more distrust towards him and his colleagues.

Hence the suspicion that Mr Westcott’s resolve to transform BBC Monitoring’s dynamic culture into a sterile, military-style culture of deference and obedience may have another dimension. It is a matter of public record that, following the Foreign & Commonwealth Office’s decision to slash its share of funding Monitoring, other stakeholders stepped in, dug deep into their pockets and, ultimately, saved the organisation’s skin. It is the belief of many staff - and we stress that, at this stage, it is only a belief - that those stakeholders are now at least implicitly demanding the quo for their quid, in the sense of requiring BBC Monitoring to transform itself in their own image.

Alternatively, it may be that, in his eagerness to ingratiate himself with Monitoring’s “saviours” and, perhaps, maximise the chances of their continuing to fund the organisation, Mr Westcott is second-guessing what they would ideally like BBC Monitoring to look like in 2010, when the next round of negotiations with the stakeholders over future funding is due. If true, this would explain many things, from the apparent desire to purge independent minds, to the appointing, without competition or boarding, of a number of staff with certain common characteristics to work on a special project for one of BBC Monitoring’s sponsors, to the discreet promotion of those staff, to the failure to reflect Monitoring’s various nationalities at senior level.

That is our suspicion, the suspicion of staff at BBC Monitoring. The onus is on Mr Westcott, his superiors in the BBC and Monitoring’s stakeholders to prove otherwise. If they don’t, then we can only slide further into indifference and despondency.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

BBC Monitoring loses a prized asset

The following submission was received by Pro-Veritas from a verified email account used by BBC Monitoring staff.

Staff at BBC Monitoring bade farewell on Monday 3 July to one of their highly prized assets, the Media Services team, which has been abolished as part of a downsizing of BBC Monitoring initiated by Director Christopher Westcott.

The move was announced by Mr Westcott at a staff briefing, a copy of which had been posted on the Intranet.

“From today Media Services will begin its integration into the new Supra-Geographic Group,” Mr Westcott proclaimed, adding that Ray Cooke, who had decided to take voluntary redundancy, “has now handed responsibility for the Media Services team over to Steve Watcham”.

Steve Watcham was promoted in May this year to head the newly-created Supra-Geographic Group, which consists of the rumps of three former departments: News and Multimedia, Research and Media Services. During the local elections that took place in the same month he stood for the Conservative Party in the Norcot Ward of Reading and came second to the ruling Labour Party’s candidate.

The Media Services team consisted of editors and technicians specialising in the politics and technical infrastructure of the media industry, and copyright experts. Whilst some of them will be subsumed into the amorphous new group and will be expected to contribute to other work unrelated to their areas of expertise, others will be forced to take redundancy.

According to Mr Westcott, the blending of the Media Services department into the Supra-Geographic Group will not compromise BBC Monitoring’s media expertise. In his briefing document, he said: “In our mission to ‘observe, understand and explain’ we will need, more than ever, to ensure our media expertise is nurtured and grown.”

However, one former manager fears that the exact opposite will happen, in that the “takeover” of Media Services will dilute the skills of some media experts and drive others to seek employment elsewhere.

Speaking strictly on condition of anonymity, the ex-manager said: “There are people in Media Services who have great skills and a fantastic knowledge of the media industry - knowledge which they have accumulated over many years. I have always thought of Media Services as the throbbing heart and the bone marrow of BBC Monitoring which provide the framework of the entire operation. Their expertise rivals that of any other media specialists in the country. I am pretty sure they would have no problem finding better jobs elsewhere, within or without the BBC. Their loss would be an absolute tragedy, a coup de grace, for BBC Monitoring. Without these media specialists the organisation will start drifting, like a boat whose navigator has been thrown overboard in order to make room for cheap labour.”

Saturday, July 01, 2006

The missed opportunity of Sir Andrew Burns’s visit to BBC Monitoring

The following submission was received by Pro-Veritas from a verified email account used by BBC Monitoring staff.

On Thursday 29 June, BBC Monitoring in Caversham played host to Sir Andrew Burns, the BBC International Governor with responsibility for the BBC Global News Division (i.e. BBC Monitoring, BBC World Service and BBC World TV).

In actual fact, very few of us caught sight of Sir Andrew, but this came as no surprise. The previous day, our Director, Christopher Westcott, sent an email to all staff advising us that the Governor “first visited Caversham last autumn when he had the opportunity to meet many teams” and that, on this occasion, he will have time to meet only a few staff, namely, the Persian team, the media specialists and the video team.

If we were in Mr Westcott’s shoes, we would have implored Sir Andrew to stay on in Caversham for just a little bit longer, especially since few staff had a chance to see him last autumn either. In fact, we would have arranged for him to meet all staff in Caversham and, via video link, in the overseas offices as well. Why?

According to the BBC Governors’ website, among their functions are to supervise the activities of the BBC, “particularly those of senior management, and ensure its accountability to licence payers both directly and via Parliament”. They go on to underline the point: “In some ways we're like the Board of a plc, in that we're here to keep an eye on those running the Corporation and make sure they do it properly” [emphasis added].

With these admirable functions in mind, what a golden opportunity Sir Andrew’s presence was for Mr Westcott to try to lift the deep sense of despair, disappointment and hopelessness that has gripped staff by letting Sir Andrew hear our concerns and grievances, and maybe even lift us out of our acute depression with a reassurance - a reassurance that the Governors will duly exercise their function and supervise the activities of our senior managers and ensure their accountability.

But it was an opportunity that was missed. According to Mr Westcott’s email, the purpose of Sir Andrew’s visit was to be briefed on financial and bureaucratic matters and “to discuss Iran, the increased range of media sources we are monitoring, including new citizen media, and on our video actuality and other video products for colleagues across the BBC”. Somehow, we doubt that the discussion of “new citizen media” included discussing our postings on the Pro-Veritas blog, except, perhaps, how to silence us.

So, just in case you are reading this, Sir Andrew, this is an open invitation from the Dissident Majority of BBC Monitoring to spare half a day and come back and talk to us in Caversham and, via video link, the overseas offices. In the spirit of “citizen media” people everywhere, we - most of our 242 staff and 15 former staff members - met in cyberspace between Friday night 30 June and Saturday morning 1 July and voted electronically by an overwhelming majority to go over the heads of our managers and invite you directly.

Let us pour our hearts out to you and, hopefully, receive reassurances from you that what has been happening at BBC Monitoring recently is only a blip and that the BBC Governors will make sure that our concerns are addressed - not just heard, but addressed. We won’t, of course, be able to talk to you as frankly as we can on this blog since no doubt you will be accompanied by minders from our “Executive Direction”, but at least you will know that we are real people and that our concerns are genuine and acutely felt.

In the meantime, we hope you will spare a little time to read our other postings on this blog. We hope they will give you a taste of our concerns and an understanding of the sombre, depressing mood music at Caversham and the overseas units.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

BBC Monitoring in the grip of gloom and despondency

The following submission was received by Pro-Veritas from a verified email account used by BBC Monitoring staff.

An atmosphere of gloom and despondency has descended upon BBC Monitoring as staff in the Caversham headquarters and the overseas units try to come to terms with another part of Director Christopher Westcott’s “transformation” agenda: the purging of experienced staff.

On Friday 23 June, the results of the reselection of middle managers (known internally as Band 9s or Duty Editors) were announced. Of the 40 or so incumbents who had been required to choose between reapplying for 20 jobs or taking redundancy, only 12 had been reselected. The remainder could either opt for redundancy or go through the selection process a second time but on this occasion also having to compete with staff on lower grades who will be allowed to apply for the middle-manager jobs.

Among the approximately 20 staff who will almost certainly lose their jobs will be some of the most experienced in BBC Monitoring.

One member of staff described the outcome of the latest boards as “a double whammy - the obliteration of experience and corporate memory in one fell swoop”. Speaking over the telephone from one of BBC Monitoring’s overseas units, the staff member, who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution, said the atmosphere in the unit was “morbid”, with everyone wondering “who’s going to be next”.

The latest reselection of middle managers had been preceded by three rounds of interviews for senior posts. These returned an all-white cast in an organisation comprised of many nationalities, fuelling suspicion among many staff of a hidden agenda to turn BBC Monitoring into a “white redoubt”.

Sadly, there is only more instability - and arbitrariness - to look forward to. In an email to all staff on Friday 23 June, Mr Westcott announced that employees on lower grades - the sub-editors and chief sub-editors (or Bands 6 and 7) - will also have to undergo reselection, but this time a reselection like no other. He said: “Newly-appointed Band 9s and their Executive Direction colleagues will have one-to-one conversations with Band 6/7s during August about their preference. We will then begin to inform staff of the outcome and their options on 1st September.”

In plain English, this means that the sub-editors and chief sub-editors will not be boarded for their jobs. Instead, whether or not they will have a job will be decided in a chat with their line managers. And if they happen not to get on with their line manager? Tough!

Friday, June 23, 2006


An open letter from BBC Monitoring staff to Director Chris Westcott

The following submission was received by Pro-Veritas from a verified email account used by BBC Monitoring staff.

To: Christopher Westcott, Director, BBC Monitoring

From: 242 staff and 15 former staff of BBC Monitoring

On Thursday 15 June, you made a scurrilous allegation against more than half of BBC Monitoring’s staff. At a question-and-answer session, you accused them of defaming you and your top managers by publishing on a blog their concerns about your policies and your management style. According to you, the 242 staff and 15 former staff who had been left with no choice but to air their misgivings on a public blog are misguided troublemakers but you, only you, are right.

So, how did BBC Monitoring’s staff defame you?

In the slogan-ridden, repressive state of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, war is considered to be peace, freedom is said to be slavery and ignorance is seen as strength. Likewise, in your world slogans appear to mean the opposite of what they are.

Let us remind you of some of your slogans.

Back in the autumn of 2005, in the aftermath of the Cabinet Office review of BBC Monitoring, you promulgated a "purpose", "vision" and "values" for BBC Monitoring. You promised us radical change - to use your own words, you said: "We agree on the need for change and believe that the goal should be a transformation - not a restructuring" (presentation to staff, 17 November 2005).

Rearranging the furniture on the Titanic

But what did you actually do? You replaced three editorial departments with two remarkably similar ones headed by two of the "previous" chiefs but with one promoted a grade higher (for what reason, what achievement, we ask?); you set up an extra layer of bureaucracy ("jobs for the girls and boys", the cynics might say); and you "merged" the stakeholder and commercial marketing departments into "one" department - one, that is, with two heads, the exact same heads as the "previous" two departments! So, this is your change, your restructuring. To us, the majority of BBC Monitoring staff, it looks more like a rearrangement than a change - a rearrangement of the furniture on the Titanic!

When we compare your slogans with your actual deeds, we see telling signs of what’s in store for many of us. For instance, in your presentation to staff on 17 November 2005, you said:

  • We will focus on culture change as the bedrock for our transformation.
  • We will be explicit about the behaviours and values that we will all be assessed on for recruitment, retention and performance.
  • This will enable everyone to judge whether BBC Monitoring is the place for them.

You will remember that, at the time, many of us expressed our concerns about the kind of cultural and behavioural change that you had in mind. We feared that what you really wanted was a culture of absolute conformity, where nobody dares to challenge you or question your hand-picked managers, one where legitimate criticism is synonymous with misconduct. That is, a military-style culture that is unlike any other in the BBC. But you reassured us and we gave you the benefit of doubt.

Summary dismissals

So, what did you actually do? When a number of our colleagues in the Central Asia Unit in Tashkent questioned the head of the unit, you sacked them. And you followed this up by publicly casting doubt on the truthfulness of their version of events. True, you didn’t do it personally but through the head of the Tashkent Unit and his line manager, who was and remains your right-hand man. As with a ship, the sailors will rarely act without an instruction, or at least a nod, from their captain.

The impact, as you will have concluded from the question-and-answer session on 15 June 2006, has been striking, at least superficially. It must have struck you as odd when, upon opening the event, you asked for questions from staff in the "international offices" and got none. But you should understand that many of those staff are us, here, on this blog, airing our concerns for the whole world to see, because you have left us with no alternative, no alternative of addressing you honestly except in this most public way.

Let us now consider another aspect of your "transformation", the criteria for recruitment, retention and performance. We have already established that one criterion is absolute, uncritical conformity to the management line. But there are ominous signs that you may be thinking of going much further - a real "transformation", to use your words.

Last spring it came to light that you had endorsed the discreet promotion of a number of staff who had been selected to work on a special project, contrary to the spirit, if not the letter, of the BBC’s Fair Selection policy. We still do not have a satisfactory answer to the reason for this, nor do we have a reassurance that it will not be repeated in the future.

A white redoubt

There have been other tell-tale signs of the transformation that is taking place under your watch. In three rounds of recruitment for senior posts in the "new" and "transformed" BBC Monitoring, all those selected have been white Europeans. In fact, all but one are white British, with one token foreigner, a Ukrainian. None, not one, of the many other nationalities and ethnic groups that work for BBC Monitoring - Africans, Afghans, Arabs, Central Asians, Kurds, Persians, peoples of the Caucasus, to name but a few - are reflected at senior level. Are they all dunces?

In your 17 November 2005 presentation to staff, you said that the transformed culture and values "will enable everyone to judge whether BBC Monitoring is the place for them". Under your management BBC Monitoring is already beginning to be transformed into the BBC’s last white redoubt.

It goes without saying that, in this white redoubt, the only place for Africans, Afghans, Arabs, Central Asians, Kurds, Persians, peoples of the Caucasus and many other "alien" employees of BBC Monitoring will be either in the translation sweatshops of Caversham or in their own countries, i.e. in the overseas offices. (If this sounds far-fetched to some, then take a look at BBC Monitoring’s US partner, which is considered by some Monitoring managers as a role model. Try to spot a non-American anywhere at senior level and you will see precisely what we mean.) And it goes without saying that the "varied and challenging work" and the "personal development and career progression" that you said will be among the hallmarks of BBC Monitoring in 2010 (presentation to staff, 24 November 2005) will apply only to white Europeans.

Why should we be bothered about this? The answer is threefold. First, we, the BBC staff addressing you here in full public view, are virtually a microcosm of the United Nations. Second, BBC employment contracts do not differentiate on the ground of colour, religious belief, ethnic origin or nationality. Indeed, any differentiation on these grounds would be unlawful. Third, the BBC is an international broadcaster. What broadcaster can claim to be international whilst at the same time building an internal glass ceiling above which all shall be white?

Our judgement

In your presentation to staff on 24 November 2005, you promised us a "culture of performance", openness, trust, honesty and accountability, one where "performance is measured against clear criteria, so making the consequences highly visible". We have judged your actions by the criteria that you yourself have set.

    Performance: You promised us real change and a transformation but delivered a change of nameplates only. This, and your visible impatience with anyone who challenges you on anything, have alienated the vast majority of staff.

    Openness: You have discreetly promoted some staff, seemingly in the hope that this would never be found out. You have not made public the precise criteria that permit you to promote staff in secret, without open competition or boarding.

    Honesty: You have carried out several staff feedback sessions (in October and November 2005) but seem to have ignored most of the feedback you received whilst telling us that your actions are driven by our feedback.

    Trust: All of the above have led to one clear, unambiguous result. That is, the vast majority of staff at BBC Monitoring - in Caversham and the overseas offices - have lost confidence in you. The discreet promotion of some staff, and the failure to reflect the international nature of our business at the senior management level, have begun to lay the foundations of apartheid within BBC Monitoring, sowing suspicion, discord and disharmony among staff.

    Accountability: This is the big question. To whom will you account for what you are doing? We have little confidence that your superiors in the BBC will bring you to account. After all, the tradition in the BBC’s top management is to look after one another. That is why we have, reluctantly and after tremendous soul-searching, decided to air our concerns in public. Let BBC Monitoring’s sponsors and the British taxpayers, to which BBC Monitoring ultimately belongs, hold you to account.

You told us on 24 November 2005 that "performance is measured against clear criteria, so making the consequences highly visible". In our judgement, you have not met any of the criteria that you yourself have set. The most highly visible consequence of this would be for you to leave BBC Monitoring.


One last thing. We are pleased to announce that we, the Dissident Majority of BBC Monitoring, have been approached by a London law firm and a top UK barrister who have pledged in writing to assist us free of charge in the event of our needing their help. We are most grateful for their support and generosity.

We believe that our concerns are best addressed by appealing to the common sense of BBC managers and to the British public at large. But we shall not hesitate to take decisive legal action in the event of any witch hunts, purges, bullying, victimisation or harassment by BBC managers of any member of staff suspected of belonging to the Dissident Majority of BBC Monitoring.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

About us

Pro-Veritas, which is Latin for "Pro-Truth", is a network of professionals from Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States who want to see transparency, honesty and justice enshrined in every workplace, from the largest multinational corporation to the smallest private business.

We are lawyers, university lecturers, schoolteachers, newspaper editors and senior public employees.
  • We believe that, when all the established mechanisms for achieving truth and justice in the workplace fail, then public exposure - "naming and shaming" - is legitimate and desirable.
  • We believe that the prospect of public exposure - the appeal of the aggrieved to the court of public opinion - is the most effective restraint on employers who think that they can trample upon the rights of their employees with impunity.
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