BBC journalist wins £50,000 payout after failing to prioritise report on Prince George’s birth

BBC journalist has won £50,000 in compensation after he was sacked for prioritising a report on Sri Lankan politics over the birth of Prince George.

Chandana Keerthi Bandara, 57, lost his job as a producer on a BBC Sri Lankan news service, and sued the BBC for unfair dismissal and race discrimination.

He had worked for the BBC for 18 years and had been a senior producer on the Sinhala service since 2000. Mr Bandara was in charge of publishing stories on July 23, 2013, the day after Prince George was born.

Duke and Duchess of Cambridge with newborn Prince George 
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge with newborn Prince George  CREDIT: DOMINIC LIPINSKI

But he decided not to prioritise the royal birth story, partly, he said, because it was the 30th anniversary of Black July, a brutal period which saw thousands of Tamil people killed in Sri Lanka.

A tribunal heard how Mr Bandara resisted management pressure to cover the story, but eventually relented. The article was published online at 12.08pm, a tribunal was told.

Despite a clean record in his 18 years at the company, after disciplinary proceedings, Mr Bandara was found to have been guilty of gross misconduct and given a final written warning.

News of the birth was broken after the Sinhala Service had departed for the evening. On the morning of July 23rd the claimant, still in charge, decided that he would not prioritise the royal birth story

He was sacked just over a year later on August 15, 2014 after further allegations about his behaviour were made.

Among several other allegations of misconduct, he was accused of making a derogatory reference to a colleague and shouting at others.

The majority of these allegations were either proved or partially proved, but the tribunal ruled that the unfair final written warning, given for the dispute over the royal story, played a large part in the dismissal decision.

Mr Bandara claimed he was unfairly targeted because of his views on the Tamil people being persecuted by the Sinhalese-dominated government of Sri Lanka.

A tribunal heard how Chandana, who has a Sinhalese father and Tamil mother, worked with a team who were mainly of Sinhalese heritage.

Mr Bandara was unsuccessful in his claims for race discrimination, but a tribunal found the final written warning was too severe a punishment, for an employee with such a good record, describing it as “manifestly inappropriate”.

The tribunal said:

“On July 22nd the Duchess of Cambridge was admitted to hospital.

“Prince George was born later that evening, but news of the birth was broken after the Sinhala Service had departed for the evening.

“On the morning of July 23rd the claimant, still in charge, decided that he would not prioritise the royal birth story. “

He told us that was because the date was the 30th anniversary of Black July, a sombre time in Sri Lankan history.

“When Mr Dejan Radojevic [his boss] attended soon after that, he felt that failing to prioritise the royal birth was absolutely the wrong course of action.”

Rejecting Bandara’s race claim that he was targeted because of his support for Sri Lankan Tamils, the tribunal said: “Our conclusion is that we are not persuaded that the views expressed by the complainant constitute a philosophical belief attracting the status of a protected characteristic within the Equality Act.”

In a hearing to determine whether he was unfairly dismissed at theCentral London Employment Tribunal, Jude Shepherd, representing Mr Bandara, argued that the allegations which followed the producer’s warning, were not enough to constitute a dismissal.

BBC Broadcasting House
BBC Broadcasting House CREDIT: GETTY

The “manifestly inappropriate” final warning therefore, had resulted in an unfair dismissal.

Representing the BBC, Tom Brown said evidence from Kerry Gonis, a manager, suggested: “The second series of allegations as significantly serious to warrant dismissal in themselves.”

He added: “It’s believable that the final written warning was not significant.”

But the panel was left unconvinced that the written warning over the Prince George incident had not swayed the producer’s dismissal.

Employment Judge Vivienne Gay said: “We are satisfied that Mr Gonis was significantly influenced by the fact that Mr Bandara did not have a clean disciplinary record.

“That is the final written warning.

“So the dismissal from that dismissal was unfair. An inappropriate warning played a part in that.

“But we are satisfied that there was culpable conduct which contributed to the dismissal.”

For that reason, Mr Bandara’s award and compensation was cut by 50 per cent.

Judge Gay added: “We add to this that the claimant had been found internally and at tribunal to have shouted at and bullied employees junior to him and at least on one occasion senior to him.”

Judge Gay also stated that Mr Bandara had “not accepted he had done anything wrong” and continued to see himself “as a victim”.

She did not order re-employment and a sum for compensation was decided.

Judge Gay said: “£51,428 that is the amount awarded to the claimant.” She also handed Mr Bandara £1,200 in costs.

A BBC spokeswoman said: “The BBC takes disciplinary matters very seriously and we are disappointed with the outcome of this unfair dismissal claim.

“We note that the tribunal reduced the compensation awarded to Mr Bandara by 75 per cent and we will review the full decision of the tribunal carefully when it is available.”

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