BBC staff complain about 'cappuccino' recruitment process for senior journalism roles

The BBC is facing staff anger over allegations of "unfair recruitment" and "cappuccino" interviews.

Two internal emails sent yesterday, seen by Press Gazette, are critical of the way new positions are being filled.

A staff survey earlier this year revealed that recruitment processes are a major concern for staff, with 67 per cent disagreeing with the statement: "There are fair, open processes for filling internal vacancies."

A National Union of Journalists internal email bulletin, sent by a representative yesterday, said they had received "stacks of complaints" over recruitment.

One year ago tomorrow, head of BBC News James Harding told his staff there would be around 400 jobs cut under the Delivering Quality First scheme. The NUJ email suggested that new editorial positions would be funded by these cuts.

The jobs that the email highlighted were:

  • senior broadcast journalist
  • new senior manager in BBC Monitoring
  • secretary in "News HQ"
  • deputy deployment editor
  • deputy managing editor of programmes
  • Today programme presenter (taken up by Nick Robinson)
  • special correspondent (James Naughtie)
  • three senior manager, editor positions in BBC Languages, part of the World Service.

Press Gazette understands that the BBC is advertising its political editor position after staff and the unions "expressed anger" over the widespread belief that an appointment would be made without formal competition. According to a BBC spokesperson, the advert has been online since last week. However, the vacancy does not appear searchable on the BBC careers website. The deadline for applications is today.

The email complained that some positions had been recruited over "cappuccino interview" processes, with no advertising and no competition. According to a source, these include: the News HQ secretary position, the BBC Monitoring manager position, the deputy managing editor of programmes position and the jobs taken on by Robinson (pictured above, Shutterstock) and Naughtie.

The World Service jobs have been advertised for internally, but are only open to a small number of staff. 

Under the heading “How are new jobs going to be paid for?”, the NUJ email said: “Is there any other way than by cutting existing posts?    

“On top of at least another £1m of cuts in Radio, 29 DQF cuts outstanding in News, 93 more to come in News, Tony Hall’s 1000, plus the fallout from the Budget and licence fee shambles.”

A BBC spokesperson said: “Tony Hall has been quite clear that we need to lose at least 1,000 posts at the BBC, especially senior manager roles, and these ten disparate recruitments, all of which are in accordance with BBC policy, are happening with that in mind. As agreed with the unions, we give priority to staff whose roles are at risk in any reorganisation or savings plan, which is why some of these roles have not been advertised widely."

The BBC also said that it has not created a secretary position in News HQ, but instead a business co-ordinator, and that this has seen a reduction from three roles into one. The BBC said the deputy managing editor of programmes position is not new, but a retitling.

A second email – sent yesterday to Harding as well as director general Tony Hall, head of World Service Fran Unsworth and head of HR Valerie Hughes-D'Aeth – complained about the closed recruitment process behind the three World Service editor positions, which were mentioned in the NUJ email also. This email claimed to have been sent on behalf of more than 50 BBC Languages staff.

It complained about an email sent by Liliane Landor, controller of BBC Languages, which made clear the positions were being opened on a “closed board basis”.

In an email announcing the “restructure”, Landor said: “In brief, the changes are that we are closing the Heads of Journalism roles and recruiting new Regional Editors for Africa, Middle East and Asia.

“We are opening these roles on a closed board basis to the existing substantive heads of journalism and hub editors, so as not to increase the number of senior editors.”

The complaint email, which had the subject line “Unfair recruitment practices at BBC”, said: “Liliane Landor has sent the email below announcing new management jobs for Language Services will be filled by a closed board meaning only a small group of her managers can apply. Only 5 or 6 managers can apply for three jobs!”

It added: “Why is this being rushed so quickly meaning there is no chance for proper applications or for staff to make objections…  

“It is unfair and favouritism to stop all staff applying for these jobs. There should be fair selection. Lilliane Landor says that there will be closed board to ‘not to increase the number of senior editors’….

“We call on you Lord Hall to stop this and make sure the BBC is fair to all staff not just favourite managers.

“Many staff in BBC Language Services are angry about this since getting this email from Liliane Landor but are scared about bullying from their managers if they complain, so we are sending this from a non BBC account named after a meeting room.”

The email sender told Press Gazette: "The most unhappiness is not that the jobs are announced but that only small number of managers can apply. It should be open to everyone and time given to apply so everyone has a fair chance."

Last summer, the BBC faced anger over the recruitment of two senior ITN journalists. They were recruited shortly before the DQF cuts were announced and apparently in the absence of a competitive interview process.

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