I’ve kept my silence over the whole Jimmy Savile thing for a number of reasons, but having seen the Panorama on Monday night and the session that Entwistle had in front of the select committee yesterday, it seems to me that the BBC has a deal to answer for.
The first issue is the question of the use of BBC facilities by Savile to perpetrate his abuse. It would be opportunistic to demand that the BBC is broken up because of the allegations. Whilst it does not excuse what went on, it is true to say that this happened a good number of years ago, and those who were active in the abuse or allowed either through ignorance or incompetence to allow the abuse to go on within the BBC estate are likely to be retired or dead.
The fact that the abuse went on within the BBC’s rooms is a stain on the reputation of the organisation, but it is not reasonable to suggest that it is still going on now. Vengefully dismantling the BBC because of what happened all those years ago will not undo the damage that was done.
It may well be that the BBC’s own investigation highlights weaknesses in their system that allowed the abuse to go on. They may well be weaknesses that still exist today, however the BBC are not alone, the same questions need also to be put to the regimes that were, and are, in charge at Stoke Mandeville, Broadmoor and Leeds General hospitals. Just from a security angle it seems a nonsense (from a contemporary viewpoint) that a celebrity volunteer could be given keys to a high security mental institution, and that the same celebrity would be blithely allowed to remove those people within to go to the taping of a TV show. Many organisations have many uncomfortable questions to ask of themselves.
I can’t help but reflect on other scandals where equally undesirable allegations have been made about public bodies. The Metropolitan Police were famously branded as ‘institutionally racist’ – this to me didn’t mean that they actively went out and recruited racists, what it means to me was that there was a culture of silence and an ignorance about the issues and indicators of racism within the organisation which allowed it to go on. That the Met was/is ‘institutionally racist’ seems to be accepted wisdom now, but I’ve always found it to be a lazy badge to pin onto the organisation. Certainly an organisation is responsible for the actions of their employees, but as an organisation gets bigger and bigger, this is not always an easy thing to keep tabs on.
Given what we heard about junior members of staff keeping quiet and that it never occurred to others to say anything about their suspicions surrounding Savile and the abuse that was allowed to go on inside its walls, would it be fair to dub the BBC, the doyen of the left, as ‘institutionally paedophile’?
Removed from the question of the abuse is the second issue, that of the whole Newsnight/Panorama/Tribute mess. It seemed amazing to me that the DG – a former head of ‘vision’, that being television to those of us who choose not to play in the sandpit of management speak, who was responsible for overseeing the content of programmes and their scheduling, answered ‘I don’t know’ or otherwise came up with generally unsatisfactory answers to the questions put to him. I don’t see how in that situation he can credibly claim to be able to do his job.
I reckon that this will probably cost him his job, and I would agree that it really isn’t his fault. But there most people and I will diverge. You see, it is all the fault of the system. The response to this for most people is to shrug their shoulders. Nothing can be done about this. And it is the BBC. That seems to be an end to it. And herein lies the problem. Just as with the NHS, the BBC’s existence seems to be the justification for its existence. To question whether that existence is proper or desirable is to commit some unspeakable heresy.
The mystique surrounding the BBC is remarkable. It is the best media outlet in the world, we are told. It is stated as fact, as certain as night following day and rain being wet. Well, I don’t buy it. Having seen the Panorama and the select committee session, I’m none the wiser as to why the Newsnight editor spiked the story and given the investigation by the Newsnight staff why it was deemed desirable to screen a Boxing Day tribute to the old perv. Don’t these people talk to each other?
The answer, rather than being no, seems to be ‘it’s complicated’. I’m sorry? That’s not an acceptable response. To blithely say that current affairs and news is very different to light entertainment is bollocks. Yoghurts and HGV’s are very different, but in order for a supermarket to function properly the person responsible for the former has to be able to talk to the person responsible for the latter. I cannot believe that somewhere at the top, or indeed on the shop floor, someone did not know that these two items, wildly conflicting in tone were knocking around. The fact that a system is in place that has prevented a satisfactory assessment of this situation from taking place is not dealt with by a fatalistic shrug of the shoulders and an ‘ahhh well, it’s the system you see.’
I was slack jawed to see the reports, delivered with great relish, that the Panorama boys would have got great pleasure from getting one over the Newsnight mob. Even more amazing were suggestions that those involved in Newsnight who gave interviews to Panorama were somehow being disloyal and could find their next few weeks in the office to be a little uncomfortable. Excuse me? So you tell me that within the news and current affairs silos that they don’t talk to each other as well? Going back to our supermarket, this is like a dairy section where the people in yoghurts won’t talk to those bastards in cream. This is insanity.
If ever there were an indication of what the BBC is, this is it writ large. It is an NGO, a quango. It just happens to make TV shows. This is how a government department works, lots of power hungry people building little empires determined to nobble their peers and opponents (normally their peers are their opponents) in some ridiculous game of politics. Competition in the workplace is healthy, desirable and goes on everywhere, but not at the expense of the organisation. Does this sort of demarkation go on in Sky? Bearing in mind that recently there was a real question over whether Sky were fit and proper to hold a broadcast licence. Well where’s the discussion over the BBC’s fitness? I’m betting Sky One, Sky News and Sky Sports talk to each other in a much more effective fashion than the BBC manages. Compare the response to the Richard Keys/Andy Gray sexism storm to the Jonathan Ross/Russell Brand phone call saga. Sky acted immediately, the BBC prevaricated and dragged their heels before finally coming to a result.
The crucial difference is Sky would lose advertisers and subscribers if they didn’t act. What would the BBC lose? A bit of face. Nothing else.
The BBC is not capable of reacting, communicating or producing output in any credible fashion. I’m not even going to touch upon their bias. Yet we are pretty much obliged to fund them. On our largesse they become ever more bloated and feel ever more entitled, all the while feeding us the line that they are the best in the world at what they do.
This episode demonstrates why the licence fee needs to be scrapped, and why this overgrown and spoiled baby needs to be sent out into the big bad world on its own. Not because Jimmy Savile sexually abused children within its confines, not because at the time nothing was done to stop it, but because they are incapable of even reporting the fact in a straight forward and transparent manner.