A long-simmering scandal involving allegations of bullying by an executive at BBCNI Television’s highly regarded investigations department is threatening to become public, with all the attendant damage and embarrassment such exposure inevitably brings.
Sterling efforts by the mandarins at Ormeau Ave to keep the spotlight (excuse the pun) off the affair could now all come to nought following the awards ceremony at last week’s prestigious annual TV jamboree in London, hosted by the Royal Television Society (RTS). A scandal which so far had been successfully kept under wraps could now burst into the open.
A deep and revealing probe of loyalist killings in Mid Ulster, made as part of the BBC’s 50th anniversary of the Troubles series, won the RTS’ prestigious current affairs programme of the year. But strangely, the editor of the department which made the show, the guy who would normally accept the RTS’ plaudits with the appropriate degree of pride and modesty before basking in the more welcome praise of his bosses back home in Ormeau Avenue, failed to appear. Needless to say this went not unnoticed, as they say.
So why the no show?
Perhaps it was because he had just heard that he was facing a disciplinary hearing over the bullying and intimidation of people working for him that has, his accusers say, a history going back an astonishing 20 years.
The award was instead accepted by a freelance producer from the team who profusely thanked the editor under investigation. The speech raised eyebrows among BBCNI colleagues because it is understood that at least 15 of them have made statements alleging a pattern of bullying characterized by regular angry outbursts at the hands of the executive under scrutiny.
The investigation was undertaken by a BBC Human Resources team from London who interviewed staff over 10 months.
The staff are keen to know what happens next and in particular where Peter Johnston, the controller of BBCNI, stands on the matter.
This all comes at a time when the same department is fighting a libel action brought by Gerry Adams, over a programme greenlighted by the same executive. See the latest: (https://www.irishtimes.com/news/crime-and-law/courts/high-court/gerry-adams-seeks-more-information-for-defamation-action-against-bbc-1.4164551)
If the action does come to trial, and Mr Adams’ legal advisers are worth their doubtless hefty fee, they will choose a jury trial on the grounds that any Dublin jury is bound to contain a significant number of people who voted for Adams’ party at the recent general election in the 26 Cos. As the bard wrote: ‘When sorrows come, they come not (in) single spies, but in battalions.’
Defamation law is a funny thing. In the UK the system is oriented toward protecting the sanctified reputations of a degenerate ruling class, whereas in the States the freedom to say anything as long as it doesn’t threaten the esablished economic order is the focus of the law. I live in Canada, where the tendency falls somewhere in between. The Missus was a source for a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation program in 2009. Rather than sue the broadcastter initially, the subject of the program sued her and the other sources. The goal was to get written retractions which could then be used to demonstrate bad faith on the part of the state broadcaster, who was then sued in the pursuit of a nice tax-payer generated cash winfall. Such retractions were, sadly, not forthcoming. Over the course of the discovery phase, CBC turned over information about sources who did not appear on the program. It seems that Adams’ representation is going to pursue that angle. It also seems that Adams’ and co. are attempting to paralyze the broadcaster through broad demands for documents. The Missus spoke for perhaps five minutes, and there are somewhere in the neighborhood of ten thousand documents now that the plaintiff claims are relevent. The suit is now in it’s eleventh year, scheduled for trial in 2021, twelve years after the broadcast. I suspect Adams will follow a similar course, although the weakness of a state broadcaster in these times can never be discounted.