In his Observer column today Nick Cohen writes about the scandal of the BBC's sacking of Meirion Jones and Liz MacKean, the two journalists who made the Panorama programme about Newsnight's abandonment of its investigation into Jimmy Savile.
Not only that, writes Cohen:
BBC managers have shifted Tom Giles, the editor of Panorama, out of news. Peter Horrocks, an executive who insisted throughout the scandal that the BBC must behave ethically, announced last September that he was resigning to “find new challenges”.
Clive Edwards, who as commissioning editor for current affairs oversaw the Panorama documentary, was demoted. The television trade press reported recently that his future is “not yet clear” (which doesn’t sound as if he has much of a future at all).I doubt the BBC is worse than any other great hierarchy, but Cohen's conclusion is right:
The power of hierarchies is hard to break. But if you want to fight fraud in the City or the rape of children, it has to be broken. A start can be made by insisting that everyone from John Humphrys in the morning to Evan Davis at night tells the truth about the purge of the BBC’s truth tellers.And the BBC does have previous.
In an extraordinary London Review of Books article from 2012 Andrew O'Hagan looked at the corporation's long entanglement with the subject.
Take the case of Derek McCulloch, 'Uncle Mac', the man in charge of Children’s Hour, and the voice of Larry the Lamb in Toytown.
In his book Strange Places, Questionable People, published in 1998, John Simpson, the BBC’s world affairs editor, writes about his early days there. In 1967, he was given the task of preparing the obituary of a famous children’s presenter. He calls him "Uncle Dick". In 1998, and still today, Simpson felt he shouldn't name McCulloch directly: but it is now clear that Uncle Dick is Uncle Mac.
In preparing the obituary, Simpson rang ‘Auntie Gladys’, who had worked with him, to get a few quotes. 'Week after week,’ Auntie Gladys told him, ‘children from all over the country would win competitions to visit the BBC and meet Uncle Dick. He would welcome them, show them round, give them lunch, then take them to the gents and interfere with them. If their parents complained, she said, the director-general’s office would write and say the nation wouldn't understand such an accusation against a much loved figure.' ...
When Simpson reported her remarks to his boss, the man rounded on him and told him he was an ‘ignorant, destructive young idiot’. The boss then rewrote Simpson’s copy; McCulloch, the obituary now said, ‘had a wonderful way with children’. The Corporation turned a blind eye to what was being said about McCulloch just as it later would with Savile and some of the others.
Yet people knew. The Times obituary of McCulloch was written by the poet Geoffrey Dearmer. ‘Children of all ages were always comfortable in his unseen company,’ Dearmer wrote. ‘There was something of Larry the Lamb in him, and Larry could get away with murder.’To end on a slightly lighter note, O'Hagan mentions meeting Dan Davies, Jimmy Savile's biographer:
He always said the story was seedy and strange and that when the book was published he would call it 'Apocalypse Now Then'.