As well as lightly grilling Piers Morgan yesterday, the Leveson Inquiry heard evidence about newspaper culture from Steve Turner, an NUJ rep on Fleet Street with some depressing things to say.
It’s almost distressing to see members expect to get justice through this process – and it never happens… one level of management backs up the next…
Bullying is still going on in newspapers, says Turner.
In one company fairly recently, one of our members went to management to complain of bullying and they said to him immediately ‘you’d better leave’… the bully is still there, nothing’s been done about it.
Looking back, I realise I’ve worked for some corking bullies in my time though, being young and inexperienced, I just assumed that this was how people behaved in the world of work.
Dodging the flowerpots…
The first, the flowerpot-throwing, spittle-flecked yeller at the theatre where I started out, was excused his tantrums on account of his genius. He believed that we backstage toilers should be grateful to be flayed daily in the service of Art. I learnt a lot from him about taking my job seriously. On the other hand he did leave me with mental scars which can make the interview question “tell us about a handling a difficult situation at work” liable to bring on a dose of post-traumatic twitching.
… and the bollocking chair
I arrived at the BBC at the tail end of the old-school management era. The guys I worked for had come up through the ranks and been bullied themselves. Now they had the chance, they were happy to pass it on. Grown men would fight to avoid the “bollocking chair” in the morning meeting – the one which put you in the Controller’s eye line when he looked up from the papers and needed to vent some wrath.
Then, eventually, to Whitehall, where things were quieter, though the sense of having stumbled into a world where everyone else knew the rules but didn’t care to explain them, often felt worse than simply being yelled at during assembly.
Again, I arrived at the end of the period where staff joined young and toiled up through the ranks, learning how to be “one of us” along the way. The worst bullying I saw happened to a colleague who eventually took early retirement, blaming stress-related health problems, with compensation – and a confidentiality agreement – negotiated by her union.
In all these cases the victims moved on and the bullies stayed put or were moved sideways to relieve senior management of the task of doing anything about them. I doubt they changed their ways
A business’s culture starts at the top.
These are not healthy ways to work. They do not deliver organisational excellence. They leave people anxious and unhappy. I met a friend for coffee the other day and we swapped war stories about places we have worked. Coincidentally we’ve both done time at Channel 4, the BBC and government, and agreed that C4 was best. When we were there, there were at least two senior women in the management team who supported junior members of staff up the career ladder rather than keeping them in their place. Bullying would just not have been tolerated. And quite right too. The scars last a long time, and no-one is helped by the belief that it’s too hard to do anything about it. Which seems to have been the approach in Fleet Street for years -
The reporter concerned had been bullied over a long period of time and was ringing Turner twice a week to get advice.
Because I have seen so many of these things end in tears and possible job loss, [Turner's ] approach was to counsel the reporter through the difficult time in the hope that the executive would move on to someone else.