Monday 17 November 2003

Inhuman Resources

I really should be studying for my exam (25 hours and 27 minutes to go, but who's counting). But for the last fortnight I've been utterly submerged in a task, no time to read anything, no time to watch TV, no time to blog, and worse, no time to surf the net and read other bloggers.
So while taking 10 minute breaks, I've been catching up on things. And on Silent Running, this story caught my eye.
On Sunday, Sept 28, I worked my shift as usual. The next morning, I was phoned at home by the boss, whom I shall call Mr A. He said: "Zenab, the sound of the World Service is changing, and you are not going to be a part of it. We won't be using you any more as an announcer."

"So - yesterday was my last day with Presentation? After three years of continuous work with you, that's it?" I asked, after a few seconds.

"Yes. Your voice is too clipped."

More stunned silence. Then finally: "But, six months ago, the senior announcer who ran my top-up training said you had personally selected me as part of the new sound. What's changed?"

"There's nothing else to say." Mr A put down the phone.
How not to do things. If there's a problem, the person concerned should be made aware of it, and whatever training or other corrective action required should be provided. Sometimes people don't work out in a job. Sometimes it's their own fault, sometimes it isn't. But it's only common human decency to let them know if there's a problem, and help them make every effort to correct it. You don't just suddenly fire them giving a flimsy and incomprehensible excuse...unless there's dirty work at the crossroads.
I had not been given even a hint that I was heading for the chop during my time at Bush House, the World Service HQ. In fact, the opposite: the announcer who gave me refresher training said I was seen to have promise.

Black newsroom colleagues told me how great it was to hear an Asian name on air. It showed that the World Service was moving away from its white, middle-class image, they said.

The Presentation people invested six months in bringing me up to the required standard and put me on air for almost three years. Then they took me off for sounding "clipped", which I take to be a euphemism for well-spoken. And it was only after my protests that I got severance pay to cover loss of earnings.
A dead giveaway, that last. This was personal.
The speed at which it all happened was breath-taking. I felt as if I was being treated like a security risk. Human resources immediately closed down my computer account, though I used the same log-in for work elsewhere in the BBC.
Another dead giveaway. This was planned by some Stalinist (method not politics) clique a long time ago, and the trap sprung. A similar thing almost happened to me once, I got out at about the third sign of it, probably a few weeks before the action was going to be taken. Others in that organisation haven't been so lucky since, so I've been informed. The section was closed down soon after they got rid of the last competent employee left.
Later that day, when I rang Mr A, (who is a "Mockney", incidentally), he told me I was not being given notice in case I "did a Dave Lee Travis". Seemingly, he was referring to the former Radio 1 DJ's anti-BBC rant on air the day he was dismissed.

So, apparently, I was too posh and a potential loose cannon to boot.

He told me he was looking for a warmer, richer sound. I was tempted to say that, as a single mother bringing up two children on my own, partly on state benefit, I cannot claim to be rich.

And as for warm - well, I started off that way but the BBC trained me to sound more authoritative.

The Director General, Greg Dyke, wants more people of colour working for the BBC. But perhaps I wasn't black enough; perhaps I needed to sound more Pakistani.

During the continuity shifts I did at Bush House, I used to read out an intro to "Write On", which features listeners' comments on the output.

Their letters often complained that they could not decipher the regional accents of some announcers. Not all that surprising, as for most World Service listeners, English is their second language.

However, I was frequently complimented on the distinctive clarity of my voice.
I can second that. The presenter - or rather, ex-presenter in question has a perfectly serviceable voice for world broadcasting. English, but not so coloured by local dielect that it's incomprehensible to foreigners (unlike some).

Finally, the clincher :
? The BBC said last night that its decision to cease employing Ms Ahmed "had nothing to do with her accent", adding: "The BBC aims to use as wide a range of voices on air as possible - including accents some may regard as 'posh'.

"We have invested a lot of time and effort in developing Ms Ahmed's skills. We regularly review announcers' abilities and performance and we retain those who meet our standards. We're sorry it didn't work out as we would have wished for all parties."
100% Pure, unadulterated Bullshit. It's not often i use scatology, but in this case, it's appropriate. Tried, Sentenced and Executed. But what was her crime? As far as I know, she's not Jewish - the usual victims of this kind of Kangaroo Court. Probably just office politics.

Memo to the BBC: Fire your Human resources people for gross incompetence and reckless disregard for human decency. Or someone one day will sue you for a fortune, and win. Oh yes, and as for the people who planned and executed this dirty piece of work, take the money out of their pay packets by sueing them in turn. They understand Fear, they use it every day as a tool to keep their lickspittles in line. So put some Fear into them, in the name of Justice.

Sorry, this one struck a personal chord in me. But I think such behaviour should be discouraged whenever it's found. Because it's a remarkably short step from this type of behaviour to sending people into the Gulags. The same mentality at work.

Talking about work, time I got back to it.

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