Press Gazette appeal to info chief forces BBC to admit three senior journalists were appointed without competition

The BBC has been forced to admit that three high-profile members of editorial staff were appointed without their jobs being advertised.

Earlier this year, the corporation rejected a Freedom of Information Act request from Press Gazette asking whether 24 high-profile journalists appointed over the last couple of years went through a competitive recruitment process to get their jobs.

Press Gazette successfully appealed to the Information Commissioner and the BBC has disclosed information on 11 of the journalists. However, Press Gazette will be asking the Information Commissioner to compel the BBC to disclose information about the remaining 13.

In mid-June, the appointments of two ITN employees – Ed Campbell as editor of special correspondents and Lucy Manning as special correspondent for BBC News – shortly before staff were told of more than 400 job losses sparked outrage among other BBC journalists.

The BBC has now revealed that Campbell was recruited without the post being advertised. The corporation continues to withhold information about the recruitment of Manning.

The BBC's own guidelines state that jobs should be filled "via a competitive selection process" which is "accessible to all" in all but "very limited circumstances".

Press Gazette was told by an insider that the pair had not been recruited in an "open and fair manner" and put this to the press office.

A spokesperson said: “We ensure we fill roles competitively using a variety of different recruitment methods. On occasion, on-air reporters or other key editorial staff have been recruited for in a different way, but always within the proper recruitment process.”

Asked about around 20 other high-profile appointees, the press office provided the same response.

Press Gazette then asked in an FoI request: “Could you please provide me with detail on how the following BBC employees were recruited. Have their current positions (which have all been taken up over 2013 and 2014, I believe) been formally advertised for? And have they had to go through a formal interview process? If not, please provide details of how the employees were recruited and who made the final decision to hire them. Please also provide the salary (or salary band) each employee receives.”

This was rejected on data protection grounds in late July, with the BBC saying: “We are withholding information on the recruitment processes that the individuals list were subject to, under section 40(2) (personal information) of the Act. Under section 40(2) of the Act, personal information about identifiable living individuals is exempt if disclosure to a third party would breach one or more principles in the Data Protection Act 1998. The individuals concerned would not expect their employment/salary data to be disclosed to a third party. To do so would be unfair; therefore, disclosure would breach the First Data Protection Principle (fair and lawful processing).”

After an internal review was requested, the BBC's senior compliance officer Simon Pickard rejected the suggestion that the FoI was intended to find information out about positions rather than individuals.

However, following a complaint to the Information Commissioner, the BBC has offered to supply part of the information requested.

The BBC has disclosed information on the following appointments (* denotes an internal move): 

  • Keith Blackmore (managing editor of BBC News)
  • Paul Royall (editor of BBC News at Six and Ten)*
  • Ian Katz (editor of Newsnight)
  • Ceri Thomas (for head of news programmes position, though he is now Panorama editor)*
  • Mark Wray (head of BBC College of Journalism)*
  • John Mullin (Scottish referendum editor)
  • Jim Gray (head of BBC TV and current affairs and deputy head of news programmes)
  • Helen Boaden (BBC Radio director)*
  • Peter Rippon (BBC online archive editor)*
  • James Harding (director of news and current affairs)
  • Ed Campbell (editor of special correspondents).

The part-disclosure has revealed that Campbell, whose appointment upset staff in the summer, as well as Boaden and Rippon were appointed despite the positions not being advertised internally or externally.

The BBC said in its FoI letter to Press Gazette and the Information Commissioner: “Of the positions that were advertised, all of the candidates who were successful went through a formal interview process.

"As stated in our original response to the request, the BBC ensures that we fill roles competitively using a variety of different recruitment methods. On occasion, on-air reporters or other key editorial members of staff have been recruited for in a different way, by [sic] always within the proper recruitment process.“

Boaden, former head of BBC News, and Rippon, former Newsnight editor, were moved into their positions in the aftermath of the Jimmy Savile and Lord McAlpine scandals, with the former retaining her £340,000 salary.

The FoI disclosure also shows that the positions of Wray and Royall were advertised internally only.

Of the 11 staff, the salaries of five – Blackmore, Thomas, Boaden, Gray and Harding – are already published online because they exceed £150,000.

The disclosure does not give the exact salaries of the remaining six, but places them into broad (and in some cases unspecified) salary ranges.

Royall, Katz and Rippon are in senior management pay grades, described as SM2, but no range is specified. Wray and Campbell earn between £42,853 and £74,622 and former Independent on Sunday editor Mullin makes between £38,338 and £67,124.

The BBC has declined to provide any information on the 13 other members of BBC staff, because it says they fall under the category of "talent". They are:

  • Nick Hopkins (Newsnight investigations correspondent)
  • Laura Kuennsberg (Newsnight economics correspondent)
  • Robert Peston (economics editor)*
  • Mishal Husain (Today presenter)*
  • Jon Sopel (North American editor)*
  • Mark Mardell (The World This Weekend and The World At One presenter)
  • Katya Adler (Europe editor)*
  • Ian Pannell (international correspondent)*
  • Penny Marshall (education editor, now returned to ITV News)
  • Hugh Pym (health editor)*
  • Lucy Manning (BBC News special correspondent)
  • Evan Davis (Newsnight presenter).

The BBC said: “We consider the information we hold in relation to those individuals we would describe as 'talent' [the 13] to be outside the scope of the Act…

“Decisions about the engagement and selection of talent are creative in nature, involving the review of such considerations as the skills of that presenter and the particular abilities that they will bring to the role that we are asking of them.

“The engagement of one presenter or journalist over another is therefore an editorial decision, closely related to the editorial and creative requirements of the programme itself, and one which necessarily influences the BBC’s subsequent output.

“Accordingly, any information the BBC holds about the recruitment and salary paid to these individuals is not subject to the Act. “

It said earlier in the latest release: “We have revisited our response and we consider that some of the requested information is held for the purposes of ‘journalism, art or literature’ and is therefore not subject to the Act.

“As you may know, the Act does not apply to the BBC in the way it does to most public authorities in one significant respect. Part VI of Schedule 1 to the Act recognises the different position of the BBC by saying that it covers information ‘held for purposes other than those of journalism, art or literature’. This means the Act does not apply to information held for the purposes of creating the BBC’s output or information that supports and is closely associated with these creative activities.

“The limited application of the Act to public service broadcasters is to protect freedom of expression and the rights of the media under Article 10 European Convention on Human Rights. The BBC is under a duty to impart information and ideas on all matters of public interest and the importance of this function has been recognised by the European Court of Human Rights. Maintaining our editorial independence is a crucial factor in enabling the media to fulfil this function.” 

Press Gazette has been sent a copy of the BBC’s recruitment policies, which state: "Vacancies should be filled via a competitive selection process, using fair and robust job-related criteria. Recruitment and selection processes should be accessible to all…"

They also state: "All continuing vacancies, plus vacancies of three months or more, should be advertised internally across the BBC.

"There are very limited circumstances in which the above rules can be disregarded."

Under the heading "Appointments without competition" the BBC guidelines state:  "In certain circumstances, it may be appropriate or practical to fill a vacancy without a  competitive selection process. The rationale for doing so should include an assessment of the potential impact, and approval sought in advance from a senior member of the divisional HR  team.

The circumstances in which an appointment may be made without competition are as follows: 

  • If there is a suitably qualified employee seeking redeployment, provided this does  not involve a promotion.
  • Where the BBC has committed to reinstate an employee on return from a BBC role  overseas, on return from a secondment to another organisation, or on return from a  career break, provided that this does not involve a promotion. 
  • Where there are overriding operational considerations of an exceptional nature. 
  • Where a similar vacancy has been advertised so recently (normally within 4  months) that the field of candidates has not changed, and is therefore known to the  hiring manager.  
  • Where there has been no substantial change to the principal responsibilities of a role, but it has been re-graded as a result of an evaluation process."

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