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Auntie’s Bloomers or dirty washing?

October 23, 2012

I have little to add to the furore over the reported actions of Jimmy Savile. Every right-thinking person should be repulsed by the abuse of any other human being, but particularly of those least able to defend themselves.

That it is the BBC that is the recipient of the major part of the political ire, when it is suggested that Savile carried on his abuse at children’s homes and hospitals, is hardly surprising.

The BBC is an easy target for politicians and competitors, partly because a good BBC storm helps deflect attention from the casual destruction of some of the support services in social work and NHS which would, one might hope, prevent occurrences of abuse, or at the very least pick up some of the pieces

There there are not many politicians who have put their heads above the parapet without inviting the Corporation’s scrutiny. That there is now an argument around Newsnight in particular must feel like birthdays and Christmas all rolled into one for the opportunist BBC-baiters.

However, much it is right that an independent investigation is carried out to see what lessons can be learned from this sorry mess, it is not for Parliament to scrutinise any editorial decisions taken at the BBC, even if they turn out to have been astronomically misguided. The editorial policy of the BBC should not be without accountability, but that accountability should be to the Governors and the BBC Board. It is to these folk that the DG should be scuttling in to see today.

If Parliament is allowed to interfere in the editorial policy of the BBC, it will be a bad day for the BBC, but also Parliament. An independent news media organisation, which at least makes it a rule to be impartial, and I would say, given the criticism of bias from both sides of the House largely achieves this, is an incredibly valuable addition to society. It provides a degree of protection from the more extreme lunacy of the politicians by casting scrutiny over what they say and do. No doubt an absence of this would be attractive to politicians. That is the reason it must not happen.

Sadly, as happened with the Andrew Gilligan affair, the BBC appears to be ready to eat itself from the inside over this. Certainly it looks like mistakes were made, and inevitably people will pay for those mistakes. This is all well and good, but I do not believe much is achieved by sacking capable people because a filthy predator was able to either pull the wool over their eyes, or to gain enough power in the Corporation to shut down any dissent or investigation.

The failure of the BBC and other organisations to stop the abuse is a much more serious thing than the failure to report it, notwithstanding the nature of the BBC. The internal editorial failure is a cause for investigation, but to focus the wider investigation on the BBC rather than the hospitals and institutions where Savile is said to have committed this litany of perversion is narrow sighted and a betrayal of those he abused.

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