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Send Back The Whisky, The Beer And The Cakes

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Jeff Zycinski | 11:17 UK time, Tuesday, 12 January 2010

In the days when I earned an honest living as a news reporter on commercial radio, I was once sent to cover a Press Conference at a distillery. It was one of those good news stories about extra investment and new jobs and ample time was afforded to record individual interviews with the boss. Everyone was happy.

Then, as the conference drew to a close, a smiling P.R. man stood at the door and offered each reporter a bottle of whisky.

Now, I was fairly new in the job and this was the first time anything like this had ever happened to me. Just months had passed since I had emerged from University College, Cardiff with my shiny post-graduate diploma in Journalism Studies - a course which had included a weekly class on 'ethics'.

I don't think there had been a specific module on accepting gifts from multi-national companies and yet I knew it was wrong to do so. It would also have seemed ungracious to refuse

So I compromised my position. I took the booze and gave it to my Editor when I got back to the newsroom. He accepted it with few qualms. I, on the other hand, felt I had crossed a line.

As I say, I was young. Young and troubled. With a bad haircut.

This story came back to me today when I was sent a copy of the BBC's latest guidelines on "declaring personal interests". Once a year we have to fill out a form and list any interests or activities that might conflict with our duties as servants of the licence-payer.

I love completing that form because I never have any personal interests. I have no social life either, but that's another story.

The BBC policy also gives guidance on accepting gifts:

Gifts (for individuals or their family) from organisations or individuals with whom an individual has, or might have, business dealings on behalf of the BBC should not be accepted. This can include goods and services in kind, at preferential rates or cash. Gifts should be returned to the sender or donated to charity"

This is the one that make me really unpopular in the office as well as at home. I recently agreed that one production team should send back a tray of cakes and pastries that had been sent in by a local baker. Two Christmases ago, a Scottish brewing company sent us many, many cases of lager. That all had to be returned too, with a polite 'thanks but no thanks note".

I didn't get many cards from colleagues that year. I got a few more personal remarks about my haircut.

At home, Mrs Zed and the Zedettes occasionally complain that I don't qualify for fantastic freebies such as free tickets to football games and associated hospitality. Worse still, the kids aren't allowed to enter any BBC competitions. That used to bother them a lot.

Of course this might make me sound like a prissy goody-two-shoes with bad hair, but I was actually inspired by the actions of a newspaper journalist. This was at a BBC Scotland programme launch at Babbity Bowster's pub in Glasgow ten years ago. As I recall, not many reporters actually turned up. I remember one poor chap from the Sunday Post being surrounded by BBC producers and press officers. I think he quit journalism that very day.

And then in walked Tom Shields who, at that time was writing the Diary for The Herald newspaper. I don't think he was there for the BBC event...he just happened to pop in.

What I do remember - vividly - was that he refused to partake of the BBC's hospitality. Yes, he had a drink with us, but paid for it out of his own pocket.

Class, I thought. A man with principles (or his own expense account.) I was impressed and thought, again, about that bottle of whisky.

Is it too late to return it?


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