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.
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