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Creating without conflict

Creating without conflict

Creating without conflict


27 March 2014

Creating without conflict – an FEU campaign

The creating without conflict campaign is about workers in the entertainments and media industries having the right to do their job without being bullied or belittled by bosses or colleagues.

The campaign is run by the Federation of Entertainment Unions (FEU) which comprises the National Union of Journalists, BECTU, Equity, Musicians' Union, Professional Footballers' Association, Writers' Guild and Unite.

It focuses on how we as individuals and as members of our unions confront work practices and work cultures that lead to bullying. It is about how we can organise collectively and industry-wide to ensure that workers are treated fairly and with respect.

The entertainment, arts and media industries are very competitive. They are seen as glamorous worlds, but the reality is that many of us are freelances or work on short-term contracts, with few statutory rights.

The FEU commissioned a survey and report examining bullying, harassment and discrimination in the entertainment and media industries which concluded that they were hotspots for this behaviour. Following a conference of FEU members to discuss the findings of the report, a code of conduct and a set of guidelines for staff and guidelines for freelances were drawn up.

There is a handy pdf for reps and members on how to deal with bullying for staff and freelances

The code of conduct is to be signed by employers and the unions.


creating without conflict
The unions: Olivia Hetreed, Semeena Zehra, Isabelle Guterriez & Natasha ©Mark Thomas

On January 22, 2019 the conference #FEUdignity brought together unions and employers’ organisations in the creative industries to assess how the #MeToo movement had galvanised them into bringing forward new ideas to tackle sexual harassment including joint codes of conduct, helplines, safe spaces, focus groups, training and guidance. The day looked at how the new codes and safe space projects were working and in the afternoon reps and officials took part in a training session with legal experts and senior union officials.  Full conference report.

The FEU held a conference, Positive Strategies for Resolving Conflict, in November 2016 which brought together leaders and HR staff from creative organisations such as the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), ITV, the BBC, TV production companies, Scottish Ballet, orchestras including The Hallé and City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CSBO), National Theatre and the English National Opera among others to share good practice in tackling bullying.  Full conference report.

But it isn't just the bosses. It is how we, as a creative community, behave towards each other. There are musicians who work in orchestra pits that are more like bear pits, actors humiliated by remarks made by cast members, reporters stitched up by their colleagues and screenwriters whose lives have been made hell because of the 'Do exactly what I say or I'll make sure you never work in this industry again' type of production management.

The aim of the campaign is to help NUJ members who have been bullied, to share examples of good practice and provide reps with advice on how to change workplace cultures for the better. 

Media and entertainments industries are hotspots for bullying

Michelle Stanistreet at the Creating without Conflict conference
Michelle Stanistreet at the Creating without Conflict conference
© Mark Thomas

The worlds of the media, arts and entertainments are often seen as glamorous, however a survey of 4,000 workers has revealed these industries are "hotspots" of bullying. More than half of those questioned (56%) said they had been bullied, harassed or discriminated against at work.

People who contributed to a survey, commissioned by the Federation of Entertainment Unions, ranged from household names, top screenwriters and performers to those at the beginning of their careers.

The results showed shocking levels of ill-treatment and inappropriate behaviour and a culture of silence, with only a third of those suffering bullying and harassment reporting the incidents.

Eight out of 10 women (81%) who reported bullying, harassment and discrimination said their gender was a factor. The respondents reported incidents from lewd comments to sexual assault and commented on pressure from superiors to enter sexual relationships and unnecessary scripted nudity.

Women said they had to develop strategies to avoid sexual harassment as their career progressed, but then found they were discriminated against because of age and were viewed as beyond their shelf-life. One in ten respondents in theatre, television and film witnessed sexually-related harassment.

There is great competition to get in and get on in the theatre, TV, an orchestra or a newspaper, but the reality is most workers are freelance or work on short-term contracts and have few statutory rights. They fear there is always someone else hungry to take their place if they complain.

The survey showed that there was almost an acceptance of the prevailing culture of bullying; an attitude of "if you can't stand the heat then get out of the kitchen". One respondent said you were expected to put up with it "to earn your stripes and anything else was seen as a weakness".

Bullying and harassment was recorded at all types of workplaces, including publically-funded national arts, music and media institutions in the UK and Ireland. For some, getting the job of their dreams became a nightmare because of the way they were treated by managers and colleagues. Managers were the main perpetrators, however, half the respondents identified co-workers and colleagues as offenders.

One common feature reported was that excuses were made for the "talent", those known in the trade as the "BAFTA bastards". These are individuals, in front of and behind the camera, front stage and back stage, who believe they are "untouchable" because of their status.

Cathy John
Cathy John, report author © Mark Thomas

The survey showed that bullying in the newspaper sector was "exceptionally high". The report, by Cathy John, senior lecturer in cultural theory and policy, at Arts University Bournemouth, said:

"All survey respondents working in local papers had been bullied, harassed or discriminated against."

The figure for national papers was 74 per cent.

The survey showed that where bullying was reported, being a member of a union was more likely to lead to a successful outcome.

Michelle Stanistreet, National Union of Journalists general secretary, said:

"It has been heart-breaking to deal with members whose dreams have been shattered because of the behaviour of their managers and of failure of employers to tackle bullying and bullies.
"I have heard testimonies from members who said, 'News editors threw reporters on to the same story, everyone was terrified of putting a foot wrong. People were put under such pressure. Reporters were effectively encouraged to shaft each other. It was such a demoralising situation' and from women journalists who had been offered promotion in return for having sex with their boss.
"We chose Creating without Conflict as the title of this conference and campaign because we want to promote workplaces where workers and managers learn to be constructive with their criticism during the creative process. Today's conference was about how trade unions can look at solutions and strategies and work with employers to tackle this blight on the media, arts and entertainment industries."

Screenwriter, 40s:

"When you have institutional imbalance – the vast majority of writers are freelance, and the vast majority of producers and script editors who hire them are salaried, with greater job security – what do you do? Discrimination is built into the power balance."

Post-production worker, film, 30s:

"It's a small industry - a 'bad reputation' (if you dare to stand up for yourself) will stay with you from company to company (and will cost you work)."

Journalist, 30s:

"There is an old-fashioned macho culture in which bullying is seen as almost an honour."

The report led to the following recommendations:

  • Better training should be provided for workers and management in dealing with unreasonable behaviour.
  • Clear guidance is provided for freelances by employers.
  • Union recognition in workplaces so that reps can negotiate anti-bullying policies and represent victims.
  • Confidential hotlines for freelance and employed workers.

The report in full

Arts and media unions call for industry-wide code to tackle bullying: Creating without Conflict conference report.

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, launched the FEU campaign in the Guardian with a media blog.

BECTU has launched an Anti-Bullying Hotline on 0800 011 3822. The union has provided a space for staff and freelances, irrespective of union membership, to report  their concerns.

Bullying- Stopping the Silence: Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom podcast on the survey and campaign

NUJ briefing on online sexism, cyber bullying and online abuse

NUJ guidance for union reps on sexual harassment

More information on NUJ bullying policies

BBC censured for failing to follow recommendations of Rose Review on bullying

TUC women's conference backs NUJ motion on bullying

The NUJ's Alex McDonald with FEU delegates at the TUC Young Workers' conference

There was standing room only at a Federation of Entertainment Unions fringe meeting on combatting bullying at the TUC Young Workers' 2014 conference.

A motion passed by Equity annual conference summed it up:

"Bullying contaminates professional working relationships and the failure to address it harms individuals, workplace teams and the reputation of the arts and entertainment sector.”

Stop Bullying poster

An NUJ workplace poster and booklet on bullying are available to send in print form – complete a campaign materials request form to order copies. The booklet is also available to download.


Tags: , bullying, harassment, feu, bbc, broadcasting, newspapers


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