The U.K. is stepping up its awareness of bullying, harassment and racism in the workplace, with a renewed industry-wide drive to educate employers across the screen sectors of best practice methods.
The industry last rallied for these issues following the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements of late 2017 and 2018, when pan-industry guidelines were drawn up to advocate for a zero-tolerance approach to bullying and harassment.
This time around, the BFI and BAFTA are launching a practical employer-focused Action List backed by over 40 organizations across film, television and games, including Time’s Up UK, Directors UK, Casting Directors Guild, Bectu and Coalition for Change. This is coupled with The Film and TV Charity’s new bullying support services, which will provide more immediate support for those in need.
The timing of the initiatives is key, and follows a harrowing period for the industry — which is built upon a largely freelance workforce — as it gets back on its feet amid the country’s COVID-19 crisis, and looks to emerge this spring from a third national lockdown.
The new Action List for employers is meant to enable them to “proactively” tackle bullying, harassment and racism, and provides a set of “simple, achievable actions” that every workplace can enforce. These include being aware of their rights and responsibilities; developing a toolkit that outlines the company policy and process involved for incidents; offering training to help identify instances of bullying and harassment; and assigning designated individuals who aren’t in management positions to serve as independent allies.
Jen Smith, head of inclusion at the BFI, tells Variety that any inclusion work and policy “should never be static” and must constantly grow, which is why the Action List follows on from the existing guidance and principles.
“We continue to talk to our partners and the industry about how they’d like to see the work evolve. The Action List is a culmination of that feedback and our desire to create something really practical and immediate that people can use straight away,” says Smith. “It is timely in the context of the pandemic, when the industry is facing a lot of additional pressures.”
Elsewhere, The Film and TV Charity’s suite of new services includes the Bullying Pathway Service, accessible via the charity’s existing 24-hour Film and TV Support Line, which offers free, confidential and independent industry-specific legal, HR and mental health advice; and digital incident recording tool Spot, accessible via the charity’s website, which can be used by anyone to create a confidential private record of something they’ve experienced of witnessed.
There is also a movement now, particularly across the BFI and BAFTA, for adherence to anti-bullying and harassment guidelines to be tied to funding. Entrants for the 2021 BAFTA Games Awards, for example, were asked to provide information on their companies’ anti-bullying and harassment guidelines. BAFTA will then use the data to locate the gaps in support and training.
Questions arose last month about protections against bullying for freelancers amid Piers Morgan’s online spat with industry campaigner Adeel Amini. At the time, Morgan was still in place as a “Good Morning Britain” presenter and ITV stood by their talent, claiming that “it’s widely understood that Piers is a prolific and long-standing user of social media where he is well known for engaging in robust, heated exchanges, when criticism is levelled against him.”
Morgan left “Good Morning Britain” last week following comments made on air about Meghan Markle. It was revealed that Markle had complained directly to ITV about the presenter’s behaviour and even went so far as to lodge a complaint with media regulator Ofcom. It’s understood that ITV’s top brass asked Morgan to apologize, and when he wouldn’t, he decided to quit. It’s notable, however, that it took a public figure like Markle to prompt serious action on the part of the broadcaster.
“One of the key reasons people don’t report this behaviour is because they don’t have faith in the structures that exist to deal with it,” explains Tim Hunter, director of learning, policy and inclusion at BAFTA.
“This is very much the thrust of what we want to achieve with this phase of the work, to ensure that every production has a policy in place; that they tell everyone they employ where to find it; that they have a procedure that they’ve worked through, so there is that confidence in place so people do come forward when they feel they’ve been subjected to bullying and harassment,” says Hunter.
Research commissioned by The Film and TV Charity, published in February 2020, collected data on more than 9,000 workers and revealed that bullying remains highly prevalent. Across all sub-sectors, 84% had experienced or witnessed bullying or harassment, with even higher figures in some sub-sectors.
Meanwhile, a “State of Play” survey on unscripted TV published in January by entertainment trade union Bectu, in association with Bournemouth University and Viva La PD, found that over 93% of respondents have experienced bullying or harassment in the TV industry, with only 11% who reported incidents considering that the matter was satisfactorily resolved.