In Defence of The BBC

November 21, 2012 4:25 pm

With the recent fury over the ‘Savile Scandals’ and the re-emergence of the horrific abuses that took place in many North Wales children homes, the attack on the BBC is the latest in a long line of stories to distract our attention momentarily from the actual victims of abuse – and from the trail that may, or may not, lead to the tops of society.

BBC’s flagship current affairs programme ‘Newsnight’ – that veritable ‘Room 101’ for our political class – was found wanting after a news item was pulled last year (October).  It meant shelving an exclusive story of the activities of the late DJ Jimmy Savile.

The  item was dropped – we were told – because it was ‘not editorially ready for broadcast’. Incredibly, it now seems, two tributes to Savile were aired instead. Rather than exposing Savile, he was celebrated as a ‘national treasure’.

It was pulled at the insistance of the then departmental head and recently resigned BBC Director General George Entwhistle. Airing it would have meant  ‘altering the Christmas schedule’, it was explained. Now, with hindsight, this only added oil to the fire.  It smelled like a blatant cover-up – hence Entwhistle’s stepping down, and enquiries being ordered.

Unspeakable abuses

To make matters worse, Newsnight  went on to compound their error of judgement by then filming another item. They interviewed Steven Messham, a former resident at the notorious Bryn Estyn children’s home. He told of unspeakable abuses of children both by staff and visitors. Those outside visitors were said to be ‘wealthy or influential men’, who arrived in chauffeur-driven Rolls Royces, carried expensive bank cards, who met their victims in a local hotel and sexually abused and raped children.

Messham, at the time of the subsequent Waterhouse Enquiry (1997-2000), was shown a photograph by police said to be of a senior Tory politician ‘from the Thatcher era’ and was told his name. ‘Newsnight’ broadcast Messham’s statement, but DID NOT reveal who the  politician was.

However, a name was intimated in the less cautious world of social media. Former advisor to Margaret Thatcher Lord McAlpine was falsely accused of being a perpetrator of abuse. Messham, on being shown another photograph, realised that McAlpine was NOT his abuser and apologised accordingly – as did the BBC. Yet Messham believes the remit of the original Waterhouse Enquiry was too narrow. It chose not to concern itself with the ‘outside visitors’.

Messham claimed that they ‘left out 30% of the evidence’

“I was told I could not go into detail about these people. I couldn’t name them and they wouldn’t question me on them. They didn’t give me a reason. They didn’t give a reason, they just said ‘you are not allowed to do so.'”

Open season

Another abuse victim, Keith Gregory, a Wrexham borough councillor, claims that names were given but they were left out of the Waterhouse Enquiry’s final report. Gregory said the abusers included ‘MPs, factory directors, judges, solicitors, shopkeepers and serving police officers’.

Inevitably, this storm heralded open season on our national broadcaster. How could they allow Savile and his ilk to abuse children on BBC premises? How could they withhold that damning ‘Newsnight’ item? How dare they falsely accuse a peer of the realm while covering up their own shortcomings?

The usual tabloid editorials screamed eagerly for the BBC’s banishment into the wilderness. One could almost detect the glee of the press, still reeling from the ‘phone-hacking’ scandal, taking great pleasure in ‘Auntie Beeb’ finally getting her own ‘comeuppance’. And that ‘one of the printed media’s own’, ex-Murdoch employee Neil Wallis, is heading one investigation, must bring a certain ‘symmetry’.

I dare say, not a few politicians might have taken great delight in seeing ‘Newsnight’, for once,  squirm.  Much like Paxman himself  had made many an MP or government minister squirm. (Former Tory Home Secretary Michael Howard was famously besieged with the same question fourteen times by Paxman and managed to give a different answer each time!)

Paxman has already spoken out against the ‘incompetents and cowards’  in the BBC who, he says, have depleted the Corporation’s ability to do its journalistic job as well as it should. Cuts to news staff while retaining a bloated middle  management being his chief complaint. Cuts that may well have contributed to journalistic mistakes being made in ‘checking basic facts’ as Paxman  had warned could happen back in 2007.

Outrage and hurt

Behind Lord McAlpine’s understandable outrage and hurt at being falsely accused are battalions calling for the end of the licence fee, the breaking up of the BBC, that the BBC is run by ‘left-wingers’.

This accusation of being  ‘left-wing’  has been  in  usage for a while. It could well date back to such instances as the BBC’s ‘Panorama’s programme ‘Death on the Rock’ which raised serious questions around the shooting of IRA terrorists  in Gibraltar in the late 1980s. The BBC were then accused of giving succour to Britain’s enemies.

Yet, there were also instances where the BBC were doubted about their bias – this time ‘anti-left’ – when it broadcast pictures of miners attacking police during the 1984 strike. In news reports of the ‘Battle of Orgreave’, it had seemed as if picketing miners had charged the police when, in fact, it had been edited to look that way. The miners had been reacting to an initial police attack.

And it was the BBC’s own Andrew Gilligan who broke the ‘sexed up’ dossier story of the Labour government that opened the way for Blair to drag us into the invasion of Iraq. All of which made right-wing  accusations of  the Corporation  being a hotbed of ‘lefties’ a bit of a non-starter.

As for the TV licence, yes, perhaps it is far too expensive and maybe it could be reduced. But if the costly high standards of production across all programmes are to be maintained then what would be wrong with properly taxing those companies and wealthy millionaires who avoid paying taxes –  the Vodaphones, Amazons and Starbucks of this world? The BBC would not be the only people to benefit from that, surely?


The final insult, I think, is the amount of doubt and, yes, sneering by many people who attempt to smear the genuine victims of abuse – the children. Now, as adults, they have found the courage to come forward and talk about what happened to them in their stolen childhoods.

Some say they are ‘bandwagon-jumpers’, ‘liars’ or, as former Tory minister David Mellor described Steven Messham –  ‘a weirdo’. Others say they, the victims, are ‘only looking for compensation’. Isn’t it somehow ironic then that the first to receive any monetary compensation is a wealthy Tory peer? Lord McAlpine is said to have received £185,000 from the BBC, from our licence fees.  Will he be donating it to ‘Children in Need’ perhaps?

And what of the actual victims of sexual and physical abuse? What is to become of them? Already, we are told, enquiries and police investigations are underway. Given the scale of abuse, wouldn’t it be much better to tie all these cases together into one big ‘Child Abuse Enquiry’ if we really want to do the matter justice? Or is this just too daunting for the powers-that-be? Would it open an even bigger can of worms? Would it lead to the acknowledgement that the vast majority of child abuse takes place within the family?

But, in many respects, it’s too late for some of the victims who have spoken out.

Even if they get their day in court, will they receive justice? Abuse victims are likely to be taken apart in court by a well-oiled barrister or Queen’s Counsel. Some of their credibility would be challenged given that, all too often, victims of abuse experience mental illness, become addicted to alcohol and drugs, often pass through the justice system. It would be all too easy for them to be rendered as ‘unreliable witnesses’.

Yet troubling questions would still remain, hanging in the air. Why was Clywd County Council’s original report by John Jillings shelved? Why was the Waterhouse Enquiry so narrow and why did it only focus on staff at the children’s homes and leave aside the question of who were the ‘outside visitors’?

And how did Jimmy Savile manage to slip through so many nets for so long?

We know Savile was connected to powerful people – he met with the Pope and regularly went to Thatcher’s country pile at Chequers for Christmas – but how did he manage to survive seven police forces investigating complaints about him?

Perhaps a clue lies in the quote Savile himself told one reporter who posed a similar question. Savile’s reply was chilling in its cocksure arrogance:

‘If I go down, I’ll take a lot of others with me.’


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