EXCLUSIVE: Channel 4’s Speak Up whistleblowing facility was used more times last year than the previous three combined as complaints increased tenfold, according to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request submitted by Deadline. Meanwhile, one complainant has slammed the facility for being “seriously flawed” and escalated his issue to CEO Alex Mahon.
Overall, there were 24 complaints made to Speak Up in 2021, according to the FOI, compared to 12 in the previous three years combined, with only two registered in 2020. The facility, which keeps complainants and the nature of their complaints anonymous, launched in 2015 but data was only available from June 2018 onwards.
The sharp rise came after Channel 4 made it mandatory for all commissioned production companies to include details of the facility on their call sheets, in part to help highlight issues surrounding racism and Covid rule-breaking. The network also carried out “regular spot checks to ensure guidance is followed,” according to a spokeswoman.
Speak Up is Channel 4’s confidential process for people working for production companies to raise complaints in areas such as “conduct that has endangered or is likely to endanger the health and safety of an individual,” along with malpractice, fraud, bribery, corruption or “other criminal offences or legal acts.” “Concealment of information relating to any of the above” can also be referred to the whistleblowing facility.
Those who want to use Speak Up first contact an external company called Safecall, who pass details to Channel 4’s internal Evaluation Group, which then decides whether to investigate internally, refer back to the production company or refer the case externally.
Of the 24 complaints made last year, the FOI said 10 were partially upheld, eight were upheld and three were not upheld. One was resolved before the investigation was concluded and another two were thrown out as they didn’t fall within Speak Up’s remit.
Questioned by Deadline to elaborate on the nature of the complaints, Channel 4 said this information “falls outside the scope of the [UK’s 2000 Freedom of Information] Act.”
Deadline has been made aware of one recent Speak Up complaint, however, which is being investigated by the Channel 4 Board’s Audit Committee Chair Andrew Miller after the complainant, Ed Ryland, took umbrage with its initial findings. Speaking to Deadline, he branded the facility “seriously flawed.”
Ryland, who has previously produced UK formats Have I Got News For You and A League Of Their Own, contacted Speak Up after a stint working on a Channel 4 show in 2020, during which he was dissatisfied with the producer’s handling of his complaint and left this role.
Ryland took umbrage with Speak Up’s investigation and Deadline has seen his correspondence with Channel 4 CEO Alex Mahon over the matter, while he has since submitted a separate complaint about the conduct of Channel 4 over his initial complaint.
“I feel Speak Up’s investigation was seriously flawed,” he told Deadline. “There is no appeals process and Channel 4 has been extremely resistant to allowing any proper scrutiny. In my view it poses a mental health risk until its procedures are fully and openly reviewed.”
The Channel 4 spokeswoman said it would be “inappropriate to comment on an ongoing investigation.”
On the growing level of Speak Up complaints, she said: “Channel 4 is committed to ensuring the highest standards of integrity and behaviour across all its productions. Awareness of our Speak Up facility has improved significantly since our productions were required to carry details of our own (or an indie’s equivalent) whistleblowing facility on call sheets over a year ago. This has led to an increase in Speak Up calls and the fact that 18 complaints were upheld or partially upheld shows the facility is working and delivering a really important function within the industry.”
The Gogglebox and It’s A Sin broadcaster urges staff and freelancers to seek help from their line managers or producers’ HR officials before using Speak Up and indies are expected to have their own policies along with abiding by Channel 4’s Supplier Code of Conduct, which outlines expectations in areas such as “Dignity at Work,” “Harassment, bullying and the abuse of power” and diversity.
Away from Channel 4, Deadline revealed in October that the BBC had overhauled its guidelines for dealing with bullying and sexual harassment on set in light of “recent revelations,” such as the Noel Clarke allegations, which the Doctor Who star denies.
Internally, the BBC’s most recent annual report for the year to April 1 2021 showed 58 bullying and four sexual harassment cases, of which 48 were closed, nine were ongoing and five were withdrawn. The BBC has sacked one person for bullying and harassment over the past two years despite 33 cases being upheld or partially upheld, according to figures obtained by The Times in September.