Journalist who sued BBC after being branded too ‘loud and shouty’ loses racial discrimination claim


World Service journalist who sued BBC after being disciplined for being too ‘loud and shouty’ and speaking ‘violently like a Bedouin character’ at a staff meeting loses racial discrimination claim

  • Ahmed Rouaba, from Algeria, was suing the BBC for alleged racial discrimination
  • BBC accepted some comments made about the journalist were ‘unacceptable’
  • However they ruled they were not said with malice, leading Mr Rouabe to take the matter to a tribunal 

An Arab-speaking journalist who tried to sue the BBC for racial discrimination after he was disciplined for being ‘too loud and shouty’ has had his case thrown out by a tribunal. 

Algeria-born Ahmed Rouaba, who is in his 50s, is said to have upset colleagues at the BBC World Service when he spoke ‘violently’ after being asked to address a July 2019 meeting in ‘formal Arabic’ rather than ‘Algerian Arabic.’  

A colleague said Mr Rouaba was speaking ‘like a Bedouin’ – a nomadic tribes people partly based out of Northern Africa. 

Algerian Arabic, also known as Dardja, is often difficult to understand for Arab speakers from the Middle East. 

Following complaints, senior officials at the BBC World Service division began a formal internal investigation during which one staff worker suggested Mr Rouaba should explain himself in a more ‘mild way’, while one blamed his ‘cultural background’ for his temperament.

Mr Rouaba complained and the BBC accepted that the comments relating to his culture and ethnicity were ‘unacceptable’, however they ultimately ruled that they were not meant in a ‘harmful or malicious way.’ 

Algeria-born Ahmed Rouaba (pictured), who is in his 50s, is said to have upset colleagues at the BBC World Service when he spoke 'violently' after being asked to address the meeting in 'formal Arabic' rather than 'Algerian Arabic'

Algeria-born Ahmed Rouaba (pictured), who is in his 50s, is said to have upset colleagues at the BBC World Service when he spoke ‘violently’ after being asked to address the meeting in ‘formal Arabic’ rather than ‘Algerian Arabic’ 

Others reported that Mr Rouaba, who is still believed to work at the BBC, often became ‘angry’ at meetings. 

After being given a final written warning, Mr Rouaba decided to sue the corporation for racial discrimination and harassment claiming it was the climax of a six-year ‘systematic victimisation campaign’ against him.

He alleged colleagues often made racist comment towards him and accused the BBC of doing ‘nothing to protect me from intimidation and racial abuse.’

He also produced medical evidence saying he had ‘numerous’ GP appointments over the past five years due to work-related stress, which he claims caused him abdominal pain and gastroesophageal reflux symptoms.

But at a tribunal in central London, Mr Rouaba, who has worked at the BBC for 10 years, lost his claim for race-related harassment following the three year legal battle. 

The tribunal ruled that his complaint did not enjoy a ‘reasonable prospect of success.’ 

The multi-media reporter, who is fluent in English and Arabic, had joined the Arabic Service department of the BBC World Service in September 2012, filing various news and sports stories and picture packages from Algeria.

But problems began in July 2019 after he was invited to a meeting of the Arabic Division of the BBC World Service.

A manager wrote to him raising concerns about his conduct at the meeting, before Mr Rouaba replied to complain about the conduct of two editors.

He said he was upset about being asked to speak in formal Arabic because not all Arab speakers could speak ‘Algerian Arabic.’

HR officials at the BBC later conducted interviews with those present at the meeting who said Mr Rouaba ‘usually gets angry often and quickly’, claiming that he raised his voice towards the editors.

In a statement given to investigators, BBC reporter Safaa Jibara said: ‘There’s a lot of background between him and the management. He has an attitude towards them. 

‘Before that we have to mention his character and the fact he is from Algeria.

‘There is a violence behind it [the way he speaks], a Bedouin character. He always shouts when he tries to give his opinion, he comes across as sharp.. He can’t explain himself in a mild way. He always shouts and is nervous.

‘This belongs to his character and his cultural character.’

In August 2020, the HR report recommended Mr Rouaba undergo a formal disciplinary review regarding his conduct and he was given a final written warning.

While the BBC accepted that the comments relating to his culture and ethnicity were 'unacceptable', they ultimately ruled that they were not meant in a 'harmful or malicious way.' (stock image)

While the BBC accepted that the comments relating to his culture and ethnicity were ‘unacceptable’, they ultimately ruled that they were not meant in a ‘harmful or malicious way.’ (stock image) 

But he appealed after acquiring copies of the interviews given by Mr Jibara and another editor and filed a grievance against them about their comments.

A BBC official reviewed the grievance and told Mr Rouaba: ‘I can see why this statement may have been upsetting for you to read and I absolutely agree that these comments are not acceptable.’

But he rejected his complaint, saying the ‘incorrect, unacceptable language’ had been used ‘in an attempt to explain cultural and background aspects.’

Despite the decision, Mr Rouaba carried on his fight, unsuccessfully appealing at another meeting, chaired by the Head of Journalism and accompanied by the BBC’s panel of ‘External Experts’ in August 2021. He then took his complaints to a the tribunal.

In a statement, Mr Rouana alleged: ‘I have been harassed and intimidated for years by two editors and their clique.

‘They have made racist comments towards me and threatened me and have actively participated in a systematic victimisation campaign. 

‘They have also filed a series of false claims against in order to dismiss me. The BBC has done nothing to protect me from intimidation and racial abuse.’

But tribunal judge Antoine Tinnion dismissed his case saying Mr Rouaba had taken too long to file his tribunal claim.

He said: ‘The Claimant was at pains to state his case that he has been subject to a longstanding campaign of harassment and intimidation extending over a period of years – he says six years – which he says the comments formed part of.

‘But the Tribunal was not satisfied that the Claimant’s discrimination complaint enjoys a reasonable prospect of success.’

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