Channel 4 News has been accused of using “gagging orders” to block female employees from speaking out about equal pay, discrimination and bullying.
Maria Miller, a Conservative MP who formerly served as culture secretary, said there are several cases where current and ex-staff members have been forced to remain silent after claiming they faced discrimination.
Non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) are legal contracts that block individuals from sharing information which companies or people want kept private.
Employers across the UK use NDAs to silence workers who allege sexual harassment, pay discrimination and other wrongdoing.
However, the highly secretive nature of the contracts, which are often dubbed “hush agreements”, means the issue routinely falls under the radar, with campaigners struggling to estimate its exact prevalence.
Ms Miller, an outspoken campaigner against the misuse of NDAs, has penned a letter to Deborah Turness, who is the chief executive of ITN, which oversees Channel 4 News, requesting more information about the alleged issue and demanding an overhaul.
“I have been approached by a number of whistleblowers with concerns about the use of NDAs in the Channel 4 newsroom,” Ms Miller, who looked into NDAs while serving as chair of the women and equalities select committee from 2018 to 2019, told The Times.
“My letter asks about the apparent use of NDAs to cover up wrongdoing and raised issues of pregnancy discrimination and workplace bullying. I’m keen to see the misuse of NDAs tackled in the next employment bill. I was involved in the recent pledge to stop the use of NDAs at universities.
“That is a step in the right direction and if it’s good enough for universities, it’s good enough for everybody else including broadcasters who report on these issues and help shape our culture. We need to stop the use of NDAs to cover up discrimination and wrongdoing.”
Journalists and members of staff who formerly worked for Channel 4 News claimed so-called gagging orders had been used in a controversial case where female employees at the leading media outlet learned they were being underpaid after coming back from maternity leave.
An ex-Channel 4 News staff member told The Times she signed a gagging order after consenting to revoke allegations of victimisation and sex discrimination while agreeing to a financial settlement.
She said she spoke up about the alleged misconduct she had endured in 2020.
The former employee, who has not been named, said: “Public promises were made about company values and I believed them.
“But speaking up proved to be a traumatic, self-destructive act. I have lost a job I loved, a job I excelled at, my professional reputation has been damaged and I have been isolated and gagged.”
An ex-journalist alleged a female co-worker signed an NDA after she was pushed out of her role, adding: “Her reputation was shredded. People who worked with her were asked to fill in a capability survey which was then used to make sure she was on her way out.”
Criticism of NDAs mounted in 2018 when former Topshop billionaire mogul Sir Philip Green found himself ensnared in a range of accusations of bullying and sexual harassment.
At the end of 2018, it was reported that Arcadia, Sir Phillip’s company, used NDA clauses with some members of staff. The Daily Telegraph was blocked from publishing misconduct allegations levied by five employees by the Court of Appeal.
Research conducted by Speak Out Revolution, a campaign group that seeks to counter “the culture of silence on harassment and bullying” in the workplace, discovered around two in ten of 400 people polled, had signed an NDA, while ten per cent said they were legally unable to say if they had done so.
A spokesperson for Channel 4 has been contacted for comment.