SBS staff members have described a culture of bullying in their Sydney workplace, alleging that complaints about senior management behaviour have not been investigated.

“Over the past few years SBS has evolved into a highly politicised, extremely stressful and unpleasant place to work,” said one whistleblower who claimed the bullying behaviour was common across the advertising sales, research and insights, marketing and content departments.

“Over the past three years or so, I am aware of a number of people who lodged complaints of bullying and harassment through SBS’ HR department. Some of these issues have been raised as part of formal ‘exit interviews’, others as formal complaints and/or cries for help. To the best of my knowledge, no formal investigation or follow-up has taken place in those cases. There is no way that senior management could be unaware of these complaints especially considering that a number of them have been about treatment by members of the senior management team,” the whistleblower said.

SBS management declined to comment on the claims.

“There is a systematic bullying and belittling of staff that is completely at odds with SBS’ own codes of conduct,” another staffer claimed.

The staff member said the atmosphere at SBS was “absurdist and dystopian” and described a program of forced camaraderie that included “town hall meetings” and a “cake roster”.

As Daily Review reported yesterday, SBS reportedly spent $180,000 on a “Values Refresh Project” this year that included asking staff to make a one-minute video to share their “feelings about SBS” in order to win a trip to the US.

“An oppressive atmosphere exists in the newsroom,” the staffer said, describing the news and current affairs department as the “dark heart” of SBS.

“Young journalists are bullied and feel paranoid for their jobs. Nobody talks much as they’re frightened and unhappy. Dissent is not allowed. Weirdly, cake is served in an almost compulsory weekly ritual as some sort of supposed antidote to this horrible atmosphere. Often young journos are put on a cake roster so it’s enforced upon them to bring in a cake they’ve made or bought. These are often the most vulnerable employees working the longest hours for the least amount of money.”

The same staff member alleges that staff surveys organised by the HR department (rebranded last year as “People and Culture”) are meant to be anonymous, but some staff have noticed “increased persecution” after answering survey questions that criticised management.

Another staff member claims that staff are under “remarkable surveillance” and SBS management is “relentless in punishing those who don’t toe the line”, citing the case of SBS sports reporter Scott McIntyre.

The soccer presenter and reporter was sacked by SBS after he posted a number of tweets on Anzac Day 2015 that SBS managing director Michael Ebeid and its director of sport Ken Shipp said had breached the network’s protocols.

The staff members claim that the atmosphere in the SBS newsroom has changed since the arrival of former Network Ten news boss Jim Carroll in 2013 and the arrival of other staff who had previously worked at Ten.

In April last year Paul Cleary wrote in The Australian that: “Carroll has said repeatedly that he wants to see attractive women on the news service, though he strenuously denies having said this. Many of the hires made by SBS since Carroll joined in February 2013, before becoming director in June, have been female reporters from the commercial networks.”

One SBS worker told Daily Review that junior news staff were subject to intense criticism from managers that “do little else but criticise other more junior members of staff on their writing and appearance, but add little to ensure a better product and a better atmosphere”.

Staff said the “stressful” and “paranoid” atmosphere at SBS was also due to increasingly stretched resources that included outsourcing its entire engineering department.

Daily Review submitted a series of questions to SBS management relating to these allegations by staff but it declined to respond.

*This article was originally published at Daily Review

Peter Fray

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