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I love the BBC. Why does it keep beating itself up?

This is a sad story about the greatest broadcast organisation in the world.

Were you as baffled as I by the collective failure over the years to ‘out’  the BBC dj, Jimmy Savile – bully, deviant and child molester?  I understand and sympathise 100% with the silence of his victims but those BBC people who worked with Savile and who knew of his grim proclivities should be ashamed of themselves. No excuses for  ‘see no evil, hear no evil’.

So what should the BBC have done about Savile if it had wanted a) to avoid embarrassment and b) avoid expensive libel proceedings? Simple. It should have booted him out of the corporation – instantly. No need for hard proof about his misdemeanours :  enough witnesses had produced similar stories.  No negotiation. No protests. No warning. No second chance. No  public explanation. Just a few quiet, firm words with the old paedo before pushing him out..

Also culpable, but less so than the people at the BBC, were the UK’s aggressive tabloids. Despite hearing grim stories about Savile over several years, it failed to investigate him as energetically as it did other celebs. (Why wasn’t Savile’s phone hacked!?)  Revelations about the peroxide paedo would have been a truly great Sunday  newspaper story. It pushed all the right buttons: celebrity, perverts, sex, the BBC, Broadmoor, the Yorkshire Ripper, the NHS, the Royal family.  Thousands of  extra copies would have flown off the shelves  in what would have been a red-letter day for an under-pressure industry. So why so coy?   One answer was  the UK’s fierce libel laws which may have inadvertently protected  someone who had wrecked several young lives: Savile’s profile as a popular, well-connected broadcaster and a committed charity fund-raiser would  have been neither easy nor cheap to fight in a libel court.

Back to the BBC. Why was it so pusillanimous regarding Savile when he was alive and so cack-handed after he died? The BBC is the civil service, so  norms such as  leadership, decision-making and responsibility are all from another planet. There is a ‘Refer Up’ syndrome that invaded the BBC years ago. It’s a culture that says that  ‘as long as I tell my boss, I’ve done my job’.  It’s visible in all areas, at all levels. It’s a form of collective responsibility that winds up with no-one being responsible. And if it’s not stopped, it could kill the Corporation……slowly and painfully.

The BBC has always had its detractors but it enjoys creating public humiliations for itself, doesn’t it?   For example, it has just published the results of its own survey which claimed that public confidence in the Corporation was in free fall, slumping to below 50% for the first time. Not surprising given recent events, and not helpful to confidence. So, why do the survey and why publish its results? Who let veteran correspondent,John Simpson, tell the Panorama programme about Savile affair that it was the “worst crisis the BBC had faced in 50 years?”  And how did Simpson’s opinions take us forward? Who let the Newsnight reporter and producer, whose story it was, air their grievances in public about their editor, Peter Rippon? Was it acceptable for BBC reporters to door-step the DG as though he was a criminal?  It’s mad snake-pit at the moment and it’s time that the new George Entwhistle ordered his people to stop pressing ‘self-destruct’. If they won’t, they should  find another employer: I doubt if Sky journos would been given the same latitude.

I love the BBC despite its flaws. I hope it continues ‘as is’ but for it to do so, it needs to stop being cowed by events, and to stand up and defend itself. Act like a grown-up, in other words! What are the chances of it doing so? Nil, probably.






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