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BBC Arab journalist wins racial harassment claim after being described as a “violent Bedouin”

An experienced Arab journalist working for the BBC has suffered from racial harassment, an employment tribunal has ruled. Mr AR, a journalist of Algerian origin who works for the BBC Arabic Service’s digital platform, was “racially harassed” by his colleague Mr SJ, without proper and necessary actions from managers and the organisation’s Human Resources department, ruled the tribunal yesterday.

In an internal disciplinary action against Mr AR in 2019, Mr SJ described his Algerian colleague as a “violent Bedouin” and attributed alleged violence to “the fact he is from Algeria”, adding that “there is violence behind it, a Bedouin character.”

The tribunal documents quoted Mr SJ as saying that Mr AR “can’t explain himself in a mild way. He always shouts and is nervous.” He claimed that, “This belongs to his character and his cultural character.”

In a unanimous ruling, the three-member tribunal panel concluded that the words used by Mr SJ were “derogatory”.

In his defence, the BBC’s lawyer argued that Mr SJ didn’t intend to harass his colleague. While the tribunal accepted this argument, it confirmed that he “racially harassed the claimant, as alleged,” pointing out that “the impugned words had the prescribed effect on the claimant.”

It also confirmed that the BBC “failed to give sufficient weight to the impact of the impugned words on the claimant,” and that, “Taking into account all the other circumstances in the case, it was objectively reasonable for this conduct to have had that effect on the claimant.”

Mr AR explained in the court hearings how managers’ behaviour made him “living in hell”.

During the year-long series of hearings, the BBC argued that Mr AR’s grievance about the impact of the racist comments by Mr SJ was unreasonable. However, the tribunal dismissed this argument, saying that it “does not find that the claimant was being hypersensitive or was unreasonably offended notwithstanding that these comments were not made directly to him”.

The ruling blamed the BBC for failing to investigate Mr AR ‘s internal complaints about the racial abuse properly. “It is striking that at every turn, the second respondent’s [the BBC’s] managers and HR advisers failed to apply the correct definition of harassment as set out in their own policy,” noted the tribunal.

The tribunal concluded that his reaction to the impugned words “cannot be divorced entirely from his firmly held view that Mr SJ had given false evidence in the service of a plot with his managers to remove him” and this was “something which clearly exercised and distressed the claimant… The claimant perceived that these words violated his dignity, and created a degrading, humiliating and/or offensive environment for him.”

The employment tribunal now plans to hold a preliminary hearing “to list a remedy” and “make any necessary case management orders.”

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