Tackling Savile-gate

After being hit by a barrage of criticism in the aftermath of the Savile scandal, the BBC has finally come out in the open about one of the most popular presenters in its 85-year history.

On October 3, a shocking ITV investigation implicated the BCC in the sexual transgressions of the late Jimmy Savile, the presenter of the wildly popular Jim’ll Fix It. Apparently, Savile’s misconduct was common knowledge to many employees at the BBC, who were discouraged from speaking about it openly. This appalling revelation was followed by another: A similar exposé showing Savile as a serial child abuser had been scheduled for airing on BBC’s current affairs programme Newsnight, but was subsequently shelved. Thus, since the last few weeks, the broadcaster was strongly criticised for covering up Savile’s serial abuse.

But a special documentary on Savile aired on BBC One’s Panorama disclosed potential reasons why the programme was shelved. The BBC team involved since last year in investigating Savile’s sexual abuse finally spoke out about why the report was dropped at the last moment. Their hard-hitting interviews divulge the rift amidst the Newsnight team regarding their story on Savile’s history of molestation. Apparently, the producer of the show Meirion Jones had warned the Newsnight editor Peter Rippon that burying the scandal would only implicate the BBC in a cover-up later. Rippon also alleged that his editor later changed the angle of the story from a look into Savile’s activities as a child molester to why the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) dropped an investigation into sexual abuse claims regarding Savile made by many women. However, Rippon claimed that the programme was dropped was because the story was not strong enough — a claim contradicted by Newsnight journalist Liz MacKean — and there was, in fact, no deliberate effort made to hide the sordid past of the former TV legend.

But while the airing of this controversial programme surely put BBC under more fire, the institution has redeemed its reputation — albeit in a small way — by engaging in self-criticism and self-reflection. It has tried to restore its reputation for credible and objective inquiry by letting the Newsnight team tell the world about what actually happened.

BBC foreign editor John Simpson has described the Savile imbroglio as “the worst crisis” in his 50-year career. But to extricate itself from the mess, the best that the BBC could do to save face was not mince its words and come out with the discomfiting truth. And this is exactly what it has done. Perhaps now the embattled broadcaster can hope to start out with a clean slate in the near future.

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