A number of prominent MPs are calling for an inquiry into allegations of “institutional racism” at the BBC made by its own staff.
Former shadow cabinet members Diane Abbott and Dawn Butler are among those to speak out following our exclusive investigation into claims by staff that they were denied career development opportunities, or bullied and silenced by an ineffective complaints procedure.
“The BBC needs to listen to its own Black staff and stop paying lip service to diversity,” Abbott told HuffPost UK.
Current staffers with total experience spanning over 100 years have called out a “toxic working environment” at the national broadcaster. Morale is also said to be at an “all-time low” among Black BBC staff who were banned from publicly supporting Black Lives Matter but watched on as their employer defended its use of the N-word.
In response to the allegation of institutional racism, the BBC said it was “an inclusive and welcoming organisation” and was “saddened if anyone is experiencing any form of discrimination at work.”
A spokesperson added: “That is why, as an organisation, we have put so much effort into ensuring that we have robust processes in place for staff to raise complaints which will be dealt with the utmost seriousness.”
Labour MP Abbott, who spent 12 years working on the BBC programme This Week, said the claims were “very concerning”.
The former shadow home secretary told HuffPost UK: “Over the years we are seeing more Black and minority ethnic presenters on the BBC but the numbers of Black producers are still pitifully small. The BBC needs to listen to its own Black staff and stop paying lip service to diversity.”
Calling for government intervention on the matter, Abbott added that other media companies also have improvements to make around racism and diversity – but stated the public licence-fee paying corporation should be held to account.
“There is no reason to believe that the BBC is any more institutionally racist than private sector media organisations. But as the nation’s broadcaster it ought to be setting an example,” she said.
“I do think that it would be appropriate for a select committee to take evidence from the BBC Director-General and his opposite numbers [at other news organisations] on institutional racism. Equally there should be an external investigation into all of them on these issues.”
Bell Ribeiro-Addy, the Labour MP for Streatham, has also supported an investigation. She told HuffPost UK: “These reports of workplace racism at the BBC, coupled with the mass departure of BAME staff, are deeply alarming and must be taken very seriously.
“I support calls for an external investigation. Big publicly funded employers like the BBC must set an example by actively listening to their employees and taking a much more proactive approach to addressing institutional racism.”
This comes as the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) confirmed that it will not be investigating the BBC for racism following calls from campaigners.
In July, the Campaign for Broadcasting Equality asked the commission to investigate the matter. CEO Simon Albury, who is the former head of the Royal Television Society, wrote to the commission asking it to look into the matter as an extension of its investigation into suspected past pay discrimination against women at the BBC.
However in a response, seen by HuffPost UK, EHRC chief executive Rebecca Hilsenrath wrote: “It’s important to flag that, particularly due to the immense pressure on our resources and the breadth of our statutory remit, our aim with any investigation or inquiry is to produce recommendations that are relevant to wider issues and sectors.”
Hilsenrath said the commission’s recently-announced inquiry into the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on ethnic minorities is hoped to include on ethnic minority workers that are in “low paid, precarious and insecure employment”.
She also pointed to the commission’s 2019 inquiry which assessed racial harassment in the higher education sector and updated guidance for increasing diversity in the television and broadcasting industry.
Responding to this news, Albury told HuffPost UK: “When it comes to racism and diversity in broadcasting, the EHRC is not prepared to act and Ofcom is toothless. At least BECTU and the Sir Lenny Henry Centre are stepping in to fill the regulatory vacuum.
“It is great that Bectu and Marcus are creating an independent safe space where people can report racism. David Olusoga was clear why it is needed when he said (reflecting on his McTaggart lecture). Black people are punished for ever suggesting anything is to do with race. for describing the way actions intentionally or unintentionally affect them. These are things that cannot be said, these are truths that have to remain unspoken.”
On the same day our expose was published, the head of Britain’s leading broadcasting union BECTU announced that she will be writing to BBC director general Tim Davies about the concerns raised.
Other media outlets have also followed suit, reporting on this issue, such as a recently published exposé on allegations of racism from south Asian staff.
In a letter seen by HuffPost UK, Leicester MP Claudia Webbe has written to prime minister Boris Johnson urging government intervention.
The Labour politician told HuffPost UK: “The allegations of institutional racism within the BBC are incredibly serious and require urgent action.
“In the era of Black Lives Matter, our taxpayer funded, public service broadcaster can no longer be diseased with institutional racism. The BBC must reflect the best of British values – not the worst.
“I have written to the prime minister urging a full, public inquiry into this engrained discrimination. Yet an inquiry alone is not enough. To ensure that the lived experience of African, Asian and minority ethnic staff at the BBC does not go ignored, the government must immediately enforce existing diversity recommendations to combat the systemic racism within our public service broadcaster.”
This week, Dawn Butler MP wrote to the chair of the Digital, Culture, Media & Sport Select Committee about the matter.
In the letter, seen by HuffPost UK, she stated: “I believe the substantive allegations made by the BBC’s own staff in the above suggest we have
a problem at the BBC, which as a publicly funded institution, must be held to account.
“I believe with the arrival of a new Director-General, this is an apposite moment to find out exactly how the BBC intends to ensure there is no room for racism in its organisation. My view is that it is fine to have words, but what my constituents are looking for are deeds and actions from a national treasure which celebrates 100 years in 18 months, and yet it has never had any
person of colour or female at its helm or in sufficient numbers in meaningful and change-making positions.”