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The BBC’s promises to change after Savile are as sincere as a prostitute’s smile

21 January 2016

5:17 PM

21 January 2016

5:17 PM

It should be easy to admire the BBC’s handling of the Savile scandal. Two of its journalists, Liz MacKean and Meirion Jones, broke the story. Panorama then ran a devastating account of the corporation’s failings which is still worth watching online.

This morning the Today programme properly led with the leak of Dame Janet Smith’s report on the multiple rapes Savile committed on BBC premises, which again showed an admirable capacity for self-criticism. Unfortunately, that is all it did.

Organisations and individuals are defined not just by their mistakes but how they react to their mistakes. Do they deny and bluster? Or do they confront their flaws and try to make amends?

The best people in the BBC behaved superbly. Their editors were, of course, a disgrace.

I say ‘of course,’ but the story of how the BBC punished its journalists for telling the truth about Savile has hardly been covered. The presenter on the Today programme got away with saying that short-term contracts might make modern workers at the BBC even less likely to speak out now than 30 years ago. She did not have the courage to describe what had happened to real BBC journalists who had spoken out.

I’ve covered the story in the Observer, and so has Private Eye and Press Gazette. Few other have followed, in part, I suspect, because they know their managers would behave just as badly as the BBC managers did, if a similar crisis hit them.

The Savile story turned into a scandal in 2013 when Peter Rippon, the then editor of Newsnight, suppressed MacKean and Jones’s original report. All hell broke loose in the BBC. There was an inquiry. We were assured that lessons were learned, as we always are. Tony Hall, Director-General of the BBC, gave a soothing corporate line when he said today:

Dame Janet Smith’s report will be invaluable in helping us understand what happened and to help ensure that we do everything possible to avoid it happening again.


Oh yeah?

Rather than listening to Hall’s bureaucratic platitudes – as sincere as a prostitute’s smile – consider the record of what happened to BBC journalists who told the truth about Savile.

Liz MacKean: Resigned. ‘When the Savile scandal broke,’ she told me, ‘the BBC tried to smear my reputation. They said they had banned the film because Meirion and I had produced shoddy journalism. I stayed to fight them, but I knew they would make me leave in the end. Managers would look through me as if I wasn’t there. I went because I knew I was never going to appear on screen again.’

Meirion Jones: Took redundancy after his job on Newsnight mysteriously vanished. ‘People said they won’t sack you after Savile but they will make your life hell,’ he told Press Gazette. ‘Everyone involved on the right side of the Savile argument has been forced out of the BBC.’

Panorama: After its admirably rigorous documentary on the BBC’s failings, which did so much to restore the BBC’s reputation, BBC managers shifted Tom Giles, the editor of Panorama, out of news. Peter Horrocks, an executive who insisted throughout the scandal that the BBC must behave ethically, resigned to ‘find new challenges’. Clive Edwards, who as commissioning editor for current affairs oversaw the Panorama documentary, was demoted.

As for Peter Rippon and all the other managers who parroted the corporate line, well, naturally, not one of them has suffered.

Hall is not trying to ‘do everything possible to avoid it happening again,’ as he maintains. If he were, he would protect whistleblowers, not preside over a corporation where they are bundled out of a job when no one is watching.

The lesson of Savile to BBC staff , who are confronted with celebrities abusing children, or managers sexually harassing women, is to keep your head down, eyes averted, and mouth shut. If Hall and his predecessors were genuine, they would have ensured the careers of journalists who spoke out about Savile did not suffer. Instead, they punished the brave and rewarded the cowardly as so many institutions do.

I think I can understand why the BBC behaved the way it did. Enemies surround it. Indeed, as politics has careered towards the extremes, its enemies have grown in strength. The Tory press hates it. The Tory government denies it funds. Meanwhile supporters of Ukip, the SNP and Jeremy Corbyn betray their petty Stalinism when they descend into screaming conspiracy theories every time the BBC asks questions they would rather not hear or covers stories they would rather hush up. One employee told me that the management regarded Jones and MacKean as ‘traitors’ for giving the BBC’s enemies another pretext to attack it.

But then Tony Hall and his colleagues are no better than Nigel Farage, Alex Salmond or Jeremy Corbyn.

They, too, have refused to defend honest journalism.

They, too, have shot the messenger.

They simper and say they want to stop abuse, but have punished the men and women who exposed it. The rest of the media has looked the other way, as indeed has Dame Janet Smith. She failed to call any of the BBC journalists who broke news of the Savile scandal she is meant to be investigating. She did not ask how on earth we are meant to ‘learn the lessons’ and ensure that ‘never again’ will an abuser like Savile rape and grope with impunity when the lesson from the BBC is: blow the whistle and we will show you the door.

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Show comments
  • IAS2011

    Many may well strongly believe or conclude that while the release of the Saville Report has now been achieved, it is not just about “lessons to be learned” about sexual abuse it is, surely, about “Abuse of Power” that continues to be rife with the powerful TV/media organisations – and who almost all the times do not want to give vulnerable VOICES an opportunity to be harnessed via their networks.

    Thus, the “Abuse of Power” still exists – whether it be the TV/media of a political system that has no legal or statutory obligation to represent anybody… and seldom does.

  • John Penny

    Rumour has it that Jill Dando had to be got rid of because she was about to expose things… (I’m merely the messenger; don’t shoot me!)

  • voidist

    again…i dont see nothing wrong with a prostitutes smile….
    why didnt you use george galloways smile as an example ?

  • evad666

    Amazing anything not to investigate the political corruption and malpractice tied to Muslim rape gangs.

  • Mr B J Mann

    “The medical literature has reports of Bowie featuring in the delusions of people with psychosis. One case report described a “32-year-old divorced white female with a long history of affective and behavioral problems”:

    “She believed she was secretly married to the rock star, David Bowie, after supposedly meeting in a church camp several years previously. She described seeing him “wait for her” outside her hospital window. The onset of this delusion coincided with a local tour by Bowie.”

    So what happens to delusional people when flamboyant, larger than life, disco inventing pioneer DJ Savile comes visiting their institution?

    What happens to hallucinating people coming round from anaesthetic after an operation when celebrity TV and Radio Star Savile, friends of everyone from rock star to real royalty comes visiting?!

    Never mind when he works there practically full time?!?!?!!!!!

    Including wheeling people in and out of theatre!!!!!

    The last person they see before they go under, and the first person they see through the hallucinatory fog of recovery as they are wheeled back to the wards?!?!?!?!?

  • Mr B J Mann

    Just before the Savile Scandal blew up I heard on a Radio 4 medical ethics programme, on an unrelated issue, that 50% of people that are given an anaesthetic, eg for surgery, experience hallucinations on coming round that they can’t distinguish from reality!

    And that in half of those cases the hallucinations are of a s-xual nature!!!

    Now, where did Savile, spend most of his time?

    And on what kind of wards?!

    So it’s hardly surprising nurses heard rumours about the weirdly flamboyant, exhibitionist, TV star getting up to strange things, especially of a s-xual nature.

    In fact I’ve only heard of one “witness” who was actually a nurse, who reported seeing him with his tongue half way down a little girl’s throat (think about that, was her neck transparent, and how long was his tongue?!). Then it became apparent she was a patient herself at the time! (I don’t know if she had been anaesthetised though).

    So the first question should be, regardless of how many dozens, or hundreds, or even thousands of people had heard rumours, or who had even seem him doing weird, s-xual things to people in hospital, is how do the numbers stack up against how many would be expected to have imagined it, and was that number substantially more or less than the actual “reports”!

    Similarly, how many people would be expected to “report” things in other institutions, and how many of the general public?

    We know that there are loonies out there, look at how many claim to have been abducted by aliens!

    We know that there are compo chasers out there, people have jumped on bandwagons only to have been found out to have been at a school or children’s home, or wherever long after, or long before, the person they claimed had assaulted them too had left or joined it.

    We even know that people admit to murders they haven’t committed (that’s apparently why full details aren’t aired, so that the loony confessors can be weeded out).

    None of which, of course, means that all, or even any, of the claimants are lying.

    But neither do tens, or even hundreds, of claimants, never mind even thousands of rumours, mean that all, or even some, of them are telling the truth!

    • voidist

      you are not mounting a defence on behalf of that sicko are you ?

      • Mr B J Mann

        I’m saying nobody actually seems to have any actual evidence that he is a sicko,

        You are not mounting a defence on behalf of those sickos that terrorised a Paediatrician, are you?

        • voidist

          sorry mate …there is evidence enough for those who want to see the

          truth…..not all his victims were drugged …..

          • Mr B J Mann

            “there is evidence enough for those who want to see”


            “There’s no smoke without fire”


            “Oh, look there’s a dirty Paediatrician, string ’em up!”

            • Leon Wolfeson

              Right, so you’re inventing evidence, setting fires and going after… oh dear.

  • Mr B J Mann

    Hearing rumours isn’t the same as knowing something.

    Not even “knowing” something is the same as actually knowing something!

    When I wer a lad there wer a creepy ol couple down t’road that used to kidnap kids who weren’t home before dark and feed them into their sausage machine in the basement.

    Every kid in the area *KNEW* about them!

    And on still dark nights, if you listened very, very, very carefully, you could just about make out the clanking of the machinery and the wails of the victims…………

    I told my parents about it, and I’m sure every other child did too, so *EVERY* parent in the area *MUST* have *KNOWN* about it!

    So they must have told the police, who clearly took no action, so must have been in on it.

    And to cap it all it was in the Heart of Ripper Country and just down t’road from Savile’s pad!!!

    Clearly there was a Sado-Paedo gang at work protected by the authorities.

    Who should I report it to?

    And will there be any compo for PTSD?!

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    HMG + MI5 + BBC = Police state

  • trobrianders

    A terrible slight on working women. The BBC is better compared to traffickers of underage white girls.

  • T Gould

    While the people accusing the BBC of bias can get a bit out there, saying the people who bully and purge dissenters and whistle blowers ‘are no better’ than the bias claimers is flat out wrong.

    Your whole article is a essentially a claim the BBC is biased against a certain group, I guess that makes you no better than the ukip conspiracy loons and the pro-party line purgers.

  • alecto

    Nothing has been done. The rot goes deep and stretches far into the Establishment. The fact no one has lost their job or been prosecuted says it all. Corrupt, devious, and utterly without morals!

  • John P Hughes

    After the Savile scandal broke, a few TV ‘personalities’ did admit to qualms about having said and done nothing about the man while he was well-known.
    Janet Street-Porter is one TV personality who wrote a semi-confession that she sort of knew that he was not a pleasant man…. but she did nothing to shop him when she and he were both well-known on TV.
    Esther Rantzen has avoided saying anything and yet it is Esther (founder of Childline) who should be challenged most closely about what she heard about Savile, and what action she took (if any). It appears that other journalists in both TV and the national press are wary of putting pressure on her (or their editors have told them not to).

  • timbazo

    I was listening to the BBC fivelive money show on the morning after the Savile report broke. The discussion concerned bank directors claiming that they did not know that any of the scandals were happening. Once contributor suggested that the banks were ‘too big to manage’. No one suggested that it might also be a good description for the BBC.