Thursday, October 25, 2012

The BBC has lied and lied and lied

It seems a lifetime ago, but it is only three weeks since ITV broadcast its documentary on Jimmy Savile. And it is worth reminding ourselves of how the BBC first responded to the story.

Here, as quoted at the time by the Guardian, is the statement it issued in the run up to the screening of that documentary:
"The BBC has conducted extensive searches of its files to establish whether there is any record of misconduct or allegations of misconduct by Sir Jimmy Savile during his time at the BBC. No such evidence has been found. 
"Whilst the BBC condemns any behaviour of the type alleged in the strongest terms, in the absence of evidence of any kind found at the BBC that corroborates the allegations that have been made, it is simply not possible for the corporation to take any further action."
Given that, a year ago, Newsnight recorded interviews with several women who claimed to have been Savile's victims, this is a thumping great lie.

Perhaps "files" had a technical meaning here, much as "sexual relations" had for Bill Clinton, that made the corporation feel it was not lying.

Perhaps the hierarchical nature of organisations - particularly the byzantine structure of the BBC, which reduced MPs to mirth when George Entwistle appeared before them - means that those singing off media statements have no idea of what is really going on.

And certainly, the BBC would have talked to its lawyers, who will have told them not to admit anything in case it was sued. That is what lawyers always say. Public relations professionals, which I am in my own small way, favour openness, but the lawyers will always overrule that approach.

The trouble is, even before the ITV programme was broadcast it was clear that line could not be held, so ever since the BBC has suffered from the damage done by this original lie.

Note too the patronising "it is simply not possible for the corporation to take any further action", which confirm every prejudice you ever had about the BBC being full of Oxbridge types laughing down their nose at you.

Then there was the second lie. As recently as 20 October the BBC was still maintaining that the Newsnight report was not investigating Savile's abuse, but accusations that Surrey Police had not investigated him properly, and that it was dropped because that story did not stand up.

When emails were released that showed this was not true, how did the BBC respond? The Daily Mail quoted its statement:
"This ridiculous story in no way casts doubt on what the BBC has previously said on this. It is simply an exchange between a junior press officer and the Newsnight producer asking for further information about the Jimmy Savile investigation."
But it was not ridiculous - note the arrogance again. The emails proved the BBC had been lying again.

And even today we a third lie has been revealed. Grant Shapps. the Conservative party chairman, complained that the BBC had sent him an email warning him not to criticise the corporation over the Savile case on Question Time. The BBC, as quoted by the Guardian, replied:
"The BBC's head of public affairs was simply doing her job of keeping MPs of all parties across BBC issues that could come up on the programme."
But go to Guido Fawkes and you will find the original email sent to Shapps. And once more we see the BBC has issued a public statement that is not true. And note that word "simply" again.

As an Englishman of my generation with a conservative temperament  I am an instinctive supporter of the BBC. But its conduct in the past three weeks has been shameful and points to the need for fundamental reform of its management.

When you prove yourself to be less trustworthy than Grant Shapps, you really are in trouble.

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Paul Walter said...

Stonking post, Jonathan

Anonymous said...

While I certainly agree that the BBC have made mistakes, by focussing so much on them I fear we're beginning to forget it s Savile who is the real villain. Scapegoating BBC doesn't change that or help victims

Anonymous said...

They may have tried to keep a lid on the issue in the run up, but this feature doesn't seem to make any acknowledgement of the Panorama programme. Odd

Anonymous said...

The first "thumping great lie" does not rely on a technical interpretation of 'files'. It relies on a mundane interpretation of "during his time at the BBC". No record of misconduct of allegations of misconduct from that time were found. The Newsnight programme was not from that time. It came after Saville was no longer employed by the BBC, principally because he was dead. The other two lies don't even seem to be substantiated, let alone proven.

Jonathan Calder said...

Anonymous: I think you will find the allegation is that Savile abused children while he was still alive.