Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 29 July 2014

Jimmy Savile stench lingers -BBC running out of time

Sir Jimmy Savile will be buried in the North Yorkshire seaside resort of Scarborough
Jimmy Savile was never a hero but he was certainly held up as a great man
Clock is ticking: the BBC may only have four years to save itself as it tries to come to terms with the Jimmy Savile scandal

By the time the full truth about Jimmy Savile and the BBC is known, the public will have stopped being shocked. That is the nature of scandalous revelations these days.

First, there is the breaking news; all shock, bang, horror. Next, the endless speculation from victims, politicians and media as to who did what, when and how.

Finally, the inevitable announcement of costly, time-consuming inquiries and criminal investigations which could run for months, or even years.

That's how it was with the tabloid phone hacking scandal, which has led to the year-long Leveson inquiry. That's how it has been for the 1989 Hillsborough soccer scandal. And now that's how it will be for the BBC and the 300 or more victims of Savile's infamous life and times.

Uncovering accurate facts about Savile and his drug and sex-fuelled cronies from the days of Top of the Pops will not be easy.

The other Saville - his Lordship from Bloody Sunday - spent years and £200m investigating what happened on one January afternoon 40 years ago in Northern Ireland.

The greatest cost of all in the case of Jimmy Savile is unquantifiable - the damage done to the minds and lives of young people who were caught in his web of sexual aberration and corruption.

Now that Savile is raised from the dead on our screens nightly, it all seems so obvious.

There he was chomping away on his cigar, pawing over and fondling his child-victims during peak viewing hours on the BBC, in full vision of an entire nation, and no one thought anything of it. There he was occasionally hinting and sometimes even boasting of what he was up to in the dressing-rooms of the BBC and the wards of hospitals and it didn't twig with anyone.

Never mind the BBC, how could 20million viewers, who spent their Saturday evenings witnessing his ridiculous antics, have been so gullible?

The shame rests on the BBC, its executives and producers, but it also falls on all our shoulders for our collective failure to see through such a deeply corrupted character - even when his evil was staring us in the face from the box in the corner of our own sitting-rooms.

As he is resurrected from the BBC archives and re-run on our screens today, we can all tut-tut and see through his outrageous behaviour so clearly, but might we still ask of ourselves: why didn't we think like that at the time?

The BBC must hope that the dust will settle soon with the renewal of its charter approaching in four years' time. This scandal strikes at the very heart of the BBC and raises questions not only as to why it went unchecked, but also about the obscure culture of the corporation not just in the past, but to this very day. The Savile inquiries are bound to shed more light on the BBC's mysterious management practices and chattering class culture.

How the hierarchy actually arrives at decisions; exposing, one hopes, the layers of civil servant bureaucracy which inhabit its corridors, raising questions as to how it has an operating expenditure budget of billions, enough to pay for the entire health and social services of Northern Ireland.

The BBC has built a reputation for investigative journalism. Now it needs to turn the spotlight on itself and reveal what exactly it does with your and my licence fee.

Lord Patten, the chairman of the BBC's Trust, who only recently appointed the new director-general George Entwistle, appears to be distancing himself from the fall-out over the latter's abysmal performance in front of MPs last week.

Patten says Entwistle and others have questions still to answer. So have Lord Patten and his Trust.

In particular, how they are going to achieve a level of openness and transparency in the BBC, the very same transparency which its journalists demand of the society they report on and investigate. The Savile scandal has revealed the BBC's double standards, just as the probe into Westminster's expenses showed the double standards of so many MPs and peers of the realm.

If the BBC didn't exist today, it is debatable whether anyone would want to invent it, as Lord Reith did in 1927. Then the motto he chose was 'Nation shall speak peace unto nation.' The victims of Jimmy Savile might wish to change that worldly sentiment to something more relevant to what they have suffered. Perhaps 'Hear no evil, speak no evil' would be more appropriate.

As for Lord Patten, who took on the task of reforming the Royal Ulster Constabulary, he surely faces a stiffer challenge now. And he has four years at most to achieve it.

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