By Phil Mansell
Since the allegations of child sex abuse by the late Jimmy Savile were broadcast in an ITV documentary during late September, the scandal has implicated a wide range of people.
The BBC has been called into question over both its failure to stop the abuse during Savile’s tenure at the company, as well as its decision not to broadcast a Newsnight investigation into rumours of alleged sexual abuse around this time last year.
However, the allegations seem to have brought to attention a wider issue of a sexually abusive culture during both the 1970s and 80s that, some claim, went as high as to involve governmental figures.
Labour MP Tom Watson alleged last week that, during the Thatcher era, there were prominent figures who were involved in child sex rings. This story has gained speed in days, but no names have yet been published. In the last month, over 300 people have reported abuse from the previously well-respected BBC radio and television personality Savile and yet it seems that this is only the tip of the iceberg.
The BBC’s decision not to broadcast the Newsnight documentary late last year has been extremely controversial, particularly as the reason behind this decision seems to be that the BBC did not want to conflict with Jimmy Savile commemoration scheduling.
Whilst clearly this was a distasteful decision, certain media outlets have used it as a stick with which to beat the BBC. Those that took the decision not to run the documentary should ultimately be punished, and this is a process, which has already begun to unravel, with the BBC Director General George Entwistle having faced the Commons’ Culture, Media and Sports Committee.
The BBC itself has begun to run its own internal investigation into the matters of abuse reported to the police, to determine their own involvement in it. As well as this, the BBC did broadcast (the night before Entwistle appeared before the Committee, in fact) a Panorama investigation into why the Newsnight programme was not shown late last year.
Whilst clearly the BBC has made great mistakes, both during the duration of the period of abuse, and by not broadcasting the Newsnight documentary, the company is visibly striving to hold itself to account for what has happened on their watch. Of course, this will be of little solace to those victims who are at the heart of the affair, but an investigation into the way influential broadcasters work can only help avoid future horrors.
Trust in the BBC will have undoubtedly been shaken by this scandal, something that BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten is clearly aware of (he stated that the scandal had done “terrible damage to the reputation of the BBC’’).
I feel a wider debate and examination of the media’s transparency and the power of celebrities should be undertaken. How was this whole scandal allowed to develop originally? Reports say that Savile had full access to numerous hospitals due to his charity work, where he would find the young girls he would abuse. Why did nobody in these hospitals report what was going on? It seems that actually some did, but were not taken seriously.
Others who witnessed these crimes and did not report them have also confirmed that they believed nothing would be done, and they would be seen as a laughing stock. On the aforementioned Panorama broadcast, ex-BBC reporter Bob Langley claimed, “Supposing I had gone to the police or to the BBC, what would have happened? The answer is nothing would have happened. He would have said ‘it was a joke, can’t you take a joke?’ And that would have been it.” This seems to be a common theme, and perhaps the most shocking aspect. How had one personality managed to convince the majority of Britain that he was a funny, loveable, charitable, selfless individual, when really, he was a monster? There is no easy answer to that question, but it is one that must be examined to ensure that history does not repeat itself.
The BBC has a lot of work to do to convince people that this can never happen again, as well as explaining how it was ever allowed to happen in the first place. This is a crisis that has been deemed the biggest in the history of the organisation, but it is a crisis that they can learn a lot from and will undoubtedly survive.
I am sure that there will be numerous developments in this story before this article is even published, with more implications and horrors revealed (over the past two days, Freddie Starr has been arrested for a second time and The Sun has run a front page implicating Leonard Rossiter, who died in 1984). This, ultimately, is a good thing – if these things have happened then they have to be exposed.
No stone should be left unturned in any of the investigations surrounding the scandal. It will take brave individuals to speak out and reveal the true extent of the scandal, and this is the only way that those involved can even begin to repair the great problems which clearly run deep in the BBC and wider media circles.
Editor’s Note: As acknowledged within the article itself, several large developments on this story have taken place, most notably George Entwistle’s resignation as Director General of the BBC; however, I think you will agree that Philip’s point still remains valid in light of these developments.