Mayer: "They were determined to get rid of me because I spoke up"
Laurie Mayer has called for an independent inquiry into bullying after he was "unceremoniously sacked" from his presenting job on BBC South East Today.
Mayer, who was signed up as a big-name presenter when the BBC’s newest regional service launched last year, said his complaints about a "culture of intimidation" had gone unheeded by senior executives, including director general Greg Dyke.
Mayer said he was "still waiting" for Dyke to reply to the e-mail he sent after "fruitless" attempts to tackle the issue with managers at the Tunbridge Wells-based station.
"I think it needs an inquiry because, despite what the BBC says about encouraging staff to speak out against bullying, my experience demonstrates that far from addressing the problem, they use it to mark and identify you and then begin the process of getting rid of you." Mayer claimed he first spoke to the head of BBC South East, Laura Ellis, four weeks after the programme went on air about the way staff were being treated by output editor Rod Beards and his assistant editor and fiancÅ½e, Davina Reynolds.
His efforts to tackle the issue on behalf of younger colleagues, "who were terrified of losing their jobs", had probably led to him losing his, he added. Mayer walked out of the Tunbridge Wells studios last week after being told 15 minutes before he was due to go on air that his contract would not be renewed.
"Laura had told me that she didn’t trust journalists and that I was being used as a conduit for their complaints," said Mayer. "When nothing was done, I went to the head of English regions, Andy Griffee, and then the head of nations and regions, Pat Loughrey. But although they thanked me for my bravery, nothing was done, and everything that happened afterwards seems to have been done in the hope that it would unsettle me and force me to leave."
Mayer, who was wooed back to the BBC after moving to Sky News as an anchor and a stint as Mohamed Al Fayed’s press spokesman, had been sold the job on the basis that he would be sole presenter on the programme. But he was told in May that Beverley Thompson was being brought in as a co-presenter. "I wasn’t happy but I accepted it," said Mayer. He has been replaced by Giles Dilnot the former FoC at BBC South East.
"I think they were determined to get rid of me because I spoke up. I don’t see myself as a champion – people came to me as a senior journalist who listened to them as an uncle figure. I’m not rolling in money, but I haven’t got a mortgage and my children have left home, so I’m in a better position to make a stand than some of the younger people there."
Mayer said he has received sympathetic e-mails from throughout the BBC. NUJ representatives are due to meet staff today (Friday) and are also planning an industry-wide survey into bullying.
A BBC statement said: "We do not recognise the circumstances related by Mr Mayer and completely refute the allegations made by him. We wish to add that no formal complaint relating to bullying or harassment to be dealt with under the BBC’s grievance procedures has been made by any individual or collective group at BBC South East since it was set up.
"This is despite active encouragement to staff, as occurs across the BBC, to air any problems or grievances they might have."
By Julie Tomlin