Friday, 26 February 2016

Savile: how could the BBC not have known?

The conclusions of the BBC's review into sex abuse allegations against Jimmy Savile and Stuart Hall are devastating. They are appalling, shaming, choose your own string of adjectives.

Everyone at the BBC who worked with the predators, or had any reason at all to suspect that they were committing crimes against children and young people, should be deeply, deeply ashamed.

How could Savile, described by those who knew him as 'weird, creepy, predatory, and loathsome' also have been regarded, in the words of the former head of BBC television, Will Wyatt, as 'really seriously important' to the corporation?

And if Dame Janet Smith heard evidence from no fewer than 117 BBC witnesses who said they had heard rumours about Savile's misconduct -- among them Esther Rantzen, Louis Theroux, Michael Grade, Nicky Campbell, Andrew Neil and Mark Lawson -- how in God's name was he allowed to carry on?

Anyone who admires the BBC will feel a sense of appalled betrayal when they read the Smith review's conclusions. The director-general, Tony Hall, was right to address the 'Who knew?' issue head on: 'It seems to me that the BBC could have known. Just as powerful as the accusation, "You knew", is the legitimate question, "How could you not have known?"' 

All this is bad enough. What makes it even worse is that, in my view, the BBC culture that as Janet Smith put it 'did not encourage the reporting of complaints or concerns', has not yet changed sufficiently. I have no way of knowing whether sexual abuse is still an issue, but bullying undoubtedly is; I know of a highly respected current affairs producer whose complaints against a senior colleague were never taken as seriously as they deserved to be and who eventually felt she had no option but to take 'voluntary' redundancy. She told me yesterday that she still feels that her experience ruined her entire career.

Sandra Laville of The Guardian has described the BBC that emerges from the Smith review as 'a hierarchical organisation, overseeing a climate of fear, where the overriding concern is to protect reputation rather than investigate the sexual abuse of children and young people.' But as she goes on to point out, it is not alone: 'The Church of England, the Catholic church, leading private schools, local authorities in Oxford, Rotherham, Rochdale, Derby, the police service and numerous other institutions in British public life have all exhibited these same traits.'

(As you may have seen, the Independent Police Complaints Commission has launched 55 investigations into alleged police misconduct linked to the sexual abuse of children in Rotherham and has received complaints against 92 named officers.)

The police and other investigating agencies sometimes try to argue that establishing the truth about allegations of sexual abuse is uniquely difficult. They veer wildly from ignoring victims when they have the courage to make a complaint, to accepting uncritically every allegation that is made. Now, after furious complaints from some public figures who have been named as alleged abusers, the Metropolitan Police commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, has suggested that the police may abandon their policy of 'automatically' believing victims' claims.

There is nothing wrong with automatically believing complaints, whether of sexual abuse or of bullying in the workplace. But nor is it wrong to say to a complainant: 'Yes, I believe what you say, and I am now going to try to corroborate it. I need to see if we can find more evidence so that we can take whatever action is appropriate.'

As for the BBC, it now needs urgently to satisfy both licence fee payers and staff that it fully understands what it has to do to rebuild confidence in it as an institution. Rona Fairhead, chairman of the BBC Trust, has made the right noises: 'The cultural change that must take place has to be both substantial and permanent. The BBC must engage fully with its staff, listen to its critics and submit policies and culture to external scrutiny.'

So here's my tuppence-worth: the BBC should appoint an external, independent complaints adjudicator to whom all staff, contributors, and guests can address any complaint. The adjudicator will have the right to interview all BBC personnel, examine any relevant documents and make public whatever findings may be made. There should also be a written guarantee that no complaint made by a member of staff or freelance contributor will result in adverse consequences for their future career or renewal of their contract. 

Like all institutions, the BBC's first instinct will always be to protect itself. That is why it so badly let down Savile's and Hall's victims. It must do better -- and be seen to do better -- from now on.


Adullamite said...

I heard rumours around 30 years ago and have no connection with the BBC.
You worked for the BBC for many years, are we to assume journalists such as yourself were unaware of these rumours?
So many appear ignorant of the perverts in the BBC, is this possible?

Anonymous said...

With over 20000 employees how could anybody know what everybody was up to but I think an independent body fir people to go to to handle this kind of issue would be a step in the right direction