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BBC denies 'gagging' reports over staff work review

image captionThe Respect at Work review asked staff to comment on respect, behaviour and culture at the BBC

The BBC has denied reports it "gagged" staff from complaining about harassment at the corporation by buying their silence with licence-fee payers' money.

Last year the BBC set up an internal review in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal called Respect at Work, to explore internal handling of past sexual harassment claims by staff.

The BBC said on Monday: "No staff past or present have been prevented from contributing to the review".

The review is led by Dinah Rose QC.

It is expected to report in several weeks, having invited staff to give their "thoughts on respect, behaviour and culture at the BBC today, including issues such as harassment (including sexual harassment) and bullying".

It was launched in October 2012 and the corporation said at the time: "Working alongside the BBC's own HR department, Rose will assist the BBC in reviewing its policies and processes relating to sexual harassment and ensuring existing structures and resources are properly deployed to guarantee support to any complainant.

"She will then make any recommendations for improvements that may be required."

The BBC added on Monday it was "currently exploring what it is like to work at the corporation with regards to respect and appropriate behaviour".

It added that "no staff past or present have been prevented from contributing to the review including those who have signed compromise agreements that may have included confidentiality clauses".

A compromise agreement is reached after an employer and employee disagree about a workplace dispute, resulting in the employee leaving with a payment combined with a confidentiality clause. This means both the employer and employee will not speak publicly about their disagreement.

"Like many other employers, the BBC sometimes uses such agreements to settle disputes," the BBC said.

"The BBC ensures that every employee has independent legal advice before entering into a compromise agreement - there is no question of their being forced into signing one without understanding its implications," said a spokesman.

However press reports have suggested that up to 20 former staff, who claimed they were bullied or sexually harassed while working at the BBC, were "banned from giving evidence to the internal review".

The Sunday Times said: "The 20 people forced to sign the gags, called compromise agreements, are barred even from revealing they have signed such a deal."

'Distressing and shocking'

The BBC's media correspondent Torin Douglas said the National Union of Journalists submitted a lengthy report to the Respect at Work review, based on the experience of many BBC staff members and freelancers.

"Its general secretary Michelle Stanistreet says she dealt personally with all those who made contact, and some of the conversations she had were truly distressing and shocking," he added.

Since Savile's death in 2011 aged 84, allegations have emerged that lead police to believe the late Radio 1 DJ and Jim'll Fix It presenter sexually abused hundreds of children and young people over five decades.

The BBC set up several internal reviews after it was discovered that a Newsnight programme investigating Savile was dropped and the corporation then went ahead with several tribute shows after his death.

One report, the Pollard Review, found there was "chaos and confusion" at the corporation over the Newsnight report which was dropped in December 2011 - but concluded senior managers had not instigated a cover-up.

The review dismissed claims the six-week Newsnight investigation was shelved to protect tribute programmes to the TV presenter and DJ.

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