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BBC to Overhaul Bullying, Harassment Policy in Wake of Jimmy Savile Scandal

Tony Hall - H 2012
Luke Macgregor/Reuters

UPDATED: Director general Tony Hall said parts of the report make for "uncomfortable reading," but the changes show a "commitment to change."

LONDON - The BBC said Thursday that it would overhaul its bullying and harassment policy following a review and report ordered in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal.

The changes will ensure that there is greater focus on informal rather than formal conflict resolution, but also that the time it takes to hear complaints is reduced by two thirds, it said. "Grievances will now be heard using managers from outside the division where the issue has arisen," the BBC said.

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The U.K. public broadcaster also said that it "will be removing derogatory statement restrictions, also known as "gagging clauses," from future BBC contracts."

The final report on the internal review listed 37 sexual harassment complaints over the past six years. It described bullying and other "inappropriate behavior" as "much more prominent" than sexual harassment.

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The news of the policy changes came in conjunction with the publication of the "Respect at Work Review" launched in the wake of the Savile scandal. The report looked at "current BBC policies and processes relating to sexual harassment, as well as what it is like to work at the BBC more broadly with regard to respect and appropriate behavior for staff and freelancers."

It was prepared under the leadership of human rights lawyer Dinah Rose alongside the BBC’s human resources department.

Separately, the BBC said it would end the use of "gagging clauses" in new contracts. However, it said it would continue to use confidentiality agreements where appropriate.

“I have been very impressed by the integrity and determination with which the BBC has undertaken this important piece of work," Rose said. "The BBC's senior management has been willing to listen to difficult and uncomfortable messages, and to accept criticism, and has sought to make practical and effective recommendations for the future."

Said BBC director general Tony Hall: "Our staff are our greatest strength, and this report shows that they are proud to work for the BBC and that we have a culture based on values that are strongly held. Parts of this report do however make uncomfortable reading."

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Among the criticism raised by the report: Some staffers are fearful of raising complaints; people management is good, but needs to be more consistent; and "the BBC needs to be clearer about the behavior it expects from managers, staff, freelancers and talent."

Hall argued that the announced measures "show our commitment to change."

He said: "We need to be honest about our shortcomings and single-minded in addressing them. I want zero tolerance of bullying and a culture where people feel able to raise concerns and have the confidence that they will be dealt with appropriately. I also want people to be able to speak freely about their experiences of working at the BBC so that we can learn from them."

Email: Georg.Szalai@thr.com
Twitter: @georgszalai