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Our top ten blogs of 2014. No 7: David Keighley on the Savile scandal


Two stories about the BBC this week underline how morally bankrupt the Corporation is becoming in its day-to-day operations and attitudes.

Its default position – from new Trustee chairman Rona Fairhead downwards – now appears to be to champion whatever it does, no matter how reprehensible and indefensible.

This underlines yet again that the BBC Trustees – though supposed to guardians of the interests of licence-fee payers – in reality are little more than lackeys of the senior management team.

Story One relates to the continued handling of the Jimmy Savile affair.  It became clear last month here in this TCW item that Fairhead had already ‘gone native’ – and her  approach to her new role was going to be to defend existing practices and approaches in the BBC rather than to attempt reform.

Peter Oborne reports that Fairhead  has now provided further very worrying evidence of this defend-at-all costs mentality. She has categorically refused to open up a further investigation of an alleged cover-up by the most senior management in their handling of the Savile story, and a subsequent alleged failure by Nick Pollard – the man appointed by the Corporation to write an inquiry into their conduct – to report the facts fully.

The evidence relating to these issues provided by journalist Miles Goslett in the Oldie magazine is both detailed and compelling.  Fairhead’s head-in-sand approach thus appears to herald that as she enters her third month in her new role, she is becoming just as complacent about BBC shortcomings as her predecessors Lord Patten and Michael Lyons.

Story Two relates to the South Yorkshire Police raid on Cliff Richard’s home back in August in connection with alleged sexual abuse back in 1985. Human rights barrister Geoffrey Robertson suggested the BBC’s elevation of this to a major new event, complete with helicopter shots, was a gross intrusion of privacy totally out of proportion to the alleged wrong-doing.

Now it has emerged, through the release of transcripts to MPs, that not only were BBC reporters closely involved at every stage of the raid, but also that after the event, Jonathan Munro, the Corporation’s Head of News Gathering. was complicit with the South Yorkshire Police press officers in trying to stage-manage the resultant negative fall-out of such unfair treatment.

Indeed, reading the accounts of what actually went on, it is hard to avoid the impression that the BBC itself became a party to the raid, so integrally involved was it with the events as they unfolded. Did South Yorkshire Police actually go ahead with it because they were quite clearly being guaranteed by the Corporation a major splash?

The BBC’s response to these new developments has been, in effect, that it could not care less. A spokesman told the Mail on Sunday, which broke the story of the post-coverage complicity, that its approach to the raid had been given the thumbs-up by the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee and there would therefore be no further comment.

But not so fast. The Home Affairs Committee had not seen the post-raid transcripts when it made its decision back in September that the faults in the coverage had all been down to the South Yorkshire Police.

And in any case, as I wrote at the time on TCW, the Committee chairman, the oleaginous Keith Vaz, appeared to be bending over backwards to let the Corporation of the hook.

The reality is that the coverage of the raid on Sir Cliff’s home had all the hallmarks of the Corporation relishing the idea that they could discredit the veteran singer, who many believe is held in contempt by them because he dares to be an enthusiastic Christian and creates music that is liked by millions but is not in the BBC’s preferred Glastonbury mould.

The job of the Trustees is to hold to account management for any shortcomings – but don’t hold your breath here.

The reality is that both the Savile affair – where BBC senior management allegedly suppressed coverage of major wrongdoing – and the raid on Cliff Richard’s home, which, it appears,  was pursued with such vigour against journalist ethics and fairness because he is who he is,  are two sides of the same coin.

That is: the BBC’s journalism is rotten to the core and no-one at the Corporation will do anything to change it. Especially, it seems, the new chairman, Rona Fairhead.

Cliff Richard, it is reported, is considering suing the Corporation over its conduct. That’s not for the faint-hearted, but it seems that is only though such actions are the only way the Corporation is ever held to proper account.

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David Keighley
David Keighley
Former BBC news producer, BBC PR executive and head of corporate relations for TV-am. Director of News-watch.

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