Gagging clauses: what every business must learn from the BBC

Last week Stuart Hall, a BBC broadcaster, ‘admitted 14 charges of indecently assaulting girls, one aged nine’.

It emerged in what the BBC call a ‘Respect At Work‘ review, that ‘some behaviour appeared to go unchallenged by senior managers, with certain individuals seen as being ‘untouchable‘ due to their perceived value to the BBC’.

Appallingly, especially if you are or have been a parent to a nine year old child, ‘the BBC turned a blind eye to Hall’.

I suspected as much in my post ‘The Perverse Cult of Celebrity‘ last October.

Political writer Linda McDougall, who worked with Hall at BBC Manchester in the late 1960s and 70s, says she was sexually harassed almost every day during the four years she worked with Hall … but was told by watching staff ‘not to make such a fuss’. 

McDougall insists that the BBC bosses must have known what was going on, recalling how Hall occupied a private room in the building (where) he would entertain female visitors. ‘It would have been impossible not to know,’ she said. ‘If I knew, if others knew, I cannot imagine our bosses did not know.’

Indeed, and worse, ‘fellow BBC staff may have helped Hall gain access to victims’.

Who are these BBC staff who ‘helped’ this monstrous child molester?

Surely they should be named and shamed and prosecuted?

As you may never have worked at the BBC, or never will, you may think all this media coverage at the BBC is not relevant to you.

Well, let me tell you it is.

As a publicly owned and funded institution, not least whose business is journalism, the BBC’s duty of truth and integrity is under greater spotlight than other businesses. For example, the management has to endure such things as Select Committees in Parliament.

It is because of this scrutiny that all companies should not be forced to behave like the BBC and these BBC initiatives should apply to all employment contracts drawn up by all companies.

The BBC director of human resources Lucy Adams has said: ‘What needs to be fixed is that we have let bullying behaviour go unchallenged.’ A confidential hotline will be set up to report abuse … and ‘gagging clauses’ will be ditched, although confidentiality clauses will be used where appropriate,  such as to protect business interests. 

Surely all this should apply to all companies?

A national ‘abuse hotline’ needs to be established.

And, if gagging clauses are to be ditched by the BBC, this should apply across the board.

Furthermore, if the intent of gagging clauses is to cover up criminal behaviour such as theft, clinical negligence and child abuse, surely these devices should be made illegal and their perpetrators, including their lawyers, prosecuted?

Finally, I would like to call for an amnesty for all whistleblowers, including me, to be allowed to reveal the criminal behaviour that gagging clauses have blackmailed them to conceal.

Far from being bribed into signing gagging orders, often by otherwise withholding payment they are contractually entitled to receive, employees should be actively encouraged to report wrongdoing and rewarded, not penalised for doing so.

I think this is very important, as my earlier posts on whistleblowing have shown:

Whistleblowers – Brave Heroes or Social Outcasts? (24 May 2012)

The Whistleblower’s Dilemma – What Would YOU Do? (31 May 2012)

Whistleblowing – A Call for New Legislation (7 June 2010)

As you can see from this article in Management Today (October 1998), these posts took five years of my life to write.

About Hugh Salmon

Business leader. Adman. Writer.
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