A Newsnet editorial
There can be few people who still doubt the sexual abuse allegations levelled against the late Jimmy Savile.
The latest testimony from a Scottish woman describing how she was sexually assaulted by the former BBC presenter when 13 years old in a hospital children’s ward decades ago has cast a pall over an establishment that appears to have protected the larger than life showman. Caroline Moore was a paralysed 13-year-old in a wheelchair when Jimmy Savile abused her.
Hospital authorities now find themselves in the dock with BBC Chiefs with both accused of protecting a child abuser. The refrain that “things were different then” will cut no ice with victims, some who were apparently ignored when they raised the alarm precisely because they were children.
Former staff have claimed that the Savile’s deviant behaviour was widely-known but was tolerated either because he was such a big star or because he raised so much money for charity. An ITV documentary makes claims that BBC producers were aware of Savile’s behaviour as far back as the 1960s.
Former BBC producer, Sue Thompson, says she saw Savile in his BBC Dressing Room kissing a young girl sat on his knee who was aged around 14. Roger Holt, 70, who worked for Polydor Records in the 1960s, claims Savile’s reputation for liking under-age girls was well known in the record industry and at the BBC. Other allegations against Savile are unprintable.
Current BBC Director-General admits Savile was regarded by BBC insiders as “a bit peculiar”. Just what levels the establishment went to in order to shield Savile we may never know.
Whatever the absolute truth of this latest scandal, one thing is apparent, the BBC finds itself in the dock and there is no ducking this one.
Sun columnist Bill Leckie has suggested this is might be the state broadcaster’s ‘phone hacking’ moment. Writing in his column, the journalist says: “For the BBC, this could be their own version of the phone-hacking scandal.
“After all, if tapping calls was enough to close the News of the World, what next for a publicly-funded broadcaster who quite clearly aided and abetted child abuse?
“If Corporation bosses not only saw nothing wrong in Savile’s actions at the time, but were still so far in denial only months ago that they scrapped a Newsnight investigation into him, it must be asked how many others within those walls were also taking advantage.”
Strong words from Mr Leckie, and there was more from a Conservative MP who suggested the culture in the part of the BBC where Savile operated was “utterly corrupted”.
Writing on his blog, Rob Wilson commented on Savile’s BBC children’s programme’s from the 70s and 80s and said: “It appears that the culture of the BBC centrally became utterly corrupted at some time in that period.
“It was a culture that allowed Jimmy Savile the space to operate, but also allegedly turned a blind eye to females being groped by male colleagues, to sexual harassment and to young women being targeted by predatory senior men. These allegations have been made by women who worked at the BBC and suggests a rather rotten culture had developed.”
Speaking in a radio interview on Monday, Mr Wilson warned of a BBC that is unable to accept it can make mistakes. He said: “This idea that the culture is that it can’t be embarrassed, it shouldn’t be open and transparent … I think that’s a worry not just for politicians like myself, it’s more worrying for people who pay their licence fee”.
It is precisely just such a failure to accept fallibility that threatens the BBC. The Scottish NUJ have issued notice that it is in dispute with BBC Scotland over plans to cut staff numbers amid claims that employees have been subjected to intimidation and targeting within the Scottish branch of the corporation.
This isn’t of course remotely linked to the Savile scandal, but it is an indication of an organisation where cliques abound and strong personalities hold sway. BBC Scotland in particular gives the impression of an organisation divorced from the real world, and protected from the most basic scrutiny – where the spirit of the corporation’s own charter is routinely ignored.
It led to a situation last week that saw the radio, TV and online facilities at BBC Scotland handed over for what amounted to a state sponsored propaganda day for the Scottish Labour party. Radio Scotland, BBC Online, Reporting Scotland, Call Kaye, Newsnight and Brians’ Big Debate all gave high profile coverage to former Audit Scotland Chief Robert Black’s speech in favour of examining the affordability of Universal benefits.
The coverage afforded Mr Black’s comments was excessive. What should have been a footnote to the big story which was Labour’s lurch to the right, was presented as though fresh views prompted by Johann Lamont’s ‘something for nothing’ speech over a week earlier. Lamont was under pressure and Labour in Scotland were experiencing a public relations disaster as her blunderingly worded speech brought criticism from the third sector, Unions and many Labour supporters.
Robert Black had made the same criticisms in 2008,2009 and 2010 – and BBC Scotland had reported them. However those unaware of Mr Black’s previous pronouncements would have been forgiven for thinking he had reached his conclusions only after Johann Lamont’s call for a ‘mature debate’.
To make matters worse, the BBC then loaded every discussion programme with people whose views were unlikely to challenge the narrative they were seeking to promote. Unionist leading commentators appeared on radio and TV, each defending Lamont and praising her ‘bravery’.
The BBC in Scotland can get away with this abuse of power because nobody holds it to account. In the same way as Savile’s behaviour was routinely ignored so the BBC bosses in Scotland act with impunity. It does what it does because it can.
The BBC is fast losing respect on both sides of the border and when that begins to go, one ignores the reasons for the malaise at one’s peril.
George Entwistle, the new director-general of the corporation has apologised for the scrapping of a Newsnight programme that looked into the allegations surrounding the late Jimmy Savile.
However, any chance of an independent inquiry into just how a man thought to be “peculiar” by BBC bosses and who we now know was a regular child abuser, was allowed to assault children in his BBC Dressing room seems distant.
Chair of the BBC Trust Lord Patten has indicated that any inquiry into Savile and the corporation’s role will be carried out by the BBC’s own investigations unit. The state broadcaster will investigate itself. It has emerged that the man handed the task of investigating the dropping of the Newsnight programme into Jimmy Savile is none other than BBC Scotland Head Ken MacQuarrie.
The arrogance continues.