Oct 22 2012

The BBC, Savile, Panorama and Newsnight: closed system, closed minds?

I don’t know them personally, but I am sure the BBC managers from Peter Rippon upwards are all well-intentioned and able people. But their defensive, closed-ranks approach to the long-term Savile scandal and the short-term Newsnight blunder shows that they have been institutionally incompetent.

They are not alone. We’ve seen it across other organisations – including Parliament – which have been reluctant to accept responsibility and whose instincts are to avoid any risk to their power.

In the BBC’s case it’s often an honest desire to protect what they see as their role as keepers of a national treasure. Sadly, that inward-looking attitude now endangers the reputation of the thing they love.

Too many BBC managers have never worked anywhere else. Their careers and world-views are bound up in that institution. Outsiders with fresh ideas and a different perspective are not encouraged. There is fierce internal competition that often stifles innovation, but little openness to external viewpoints.

That doesn’t mean they are to blame for the decades-long Savile abuses. Those were also sanctioned by the sexist, uncaring values of that period in history. It was the evil adventure of a determined and devious individual. Other organisations like the NHS were culpable.

Likewise, let’s put the Newsnight controversy in perspective. The Newsnight debacle is familiar to anyone who’s seen editors under pressure make unfortunate decisions in a culture where risk is rarely rewarded and where ‘brave’ is a term of mockery. I doubt there was any direct attempt by senior bosses to kill that film.

But the way that the investigation by such a credible journalist as Liz MacKean was dismissed while resources were lavished on a hagiography of a pervert is a ghastly juxtaposition. The Newsnight story is damaging to BBC journalism’s reputation, but is more important as a symbol of the kind of institutional problems the BBC has that meant it ¬†failed to address the much, much greater fault of sheltering a paedophile.

Let’s remember after all, that one of journalism’s key roles is supposed to be rocking the boat, thumbing the nose at the famous and holding power to account. This week’s Panorama has helped belatedly to restore some faith in the BBC’s ability to do that, paradoxically by revealing the wider failure to hold itself to that task.

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2 Responses to The BBC, Savile, Panorama and Newsnight: closed system, closed minds?

  1. Pingback: The media and Jimmy Savile « Calum Leslie

  2. IAS says:

    Dear Charlie,

    I hear what you are saying, but in my experience the powerful news media overall has continually failed to go into the heart of communities and to address failings – even by those who are fighting to improve their social mobility – and thus hold politicians and other authorities who are part of the policy decision-making process, to account.

    I feel that a protectionism for the BBC, is similar to a type of seemingly protectionist agenda for any other Powerful Media Company. Whether it be the Power of Sky or the BBC, we hear so little about the ‘stories’ from ‘ordinary people’ who because of failed policies are consistently struggling to improve their disadvantaged lives. WHY?
    I know this is so because I have contacted both of these organisations over the years to highlight where policy was responsible for failings me and thousands of others – leading to the loss of viable businesses and an appalling stagnation in social mobility, including the psychological detriment that followed.

    So you talk about ‘closed minds’ and you talk about the BBC, when in fact it is the News media who has FAILED to connect with ‘ordinary people’ and thus encouraging such appalling stories to be told and INSPIRING a fundamental Change and progress in the lives of these people.

    With so many seemingly ‘conflicts of interests’ that exists between the powerful News Media companies and others (especially BANKERS), it is no wonder that protectionism exists from within. Sadly, the cost of this means that a ‘blind-eye’ is almost certainly placed on those who have been failed in such appalling ways. Again, I have personal experience of this.

    With MPs having No Legal or Statutory Obligation to Represent anybody too, this weaken a pathways towards achieving Fairness and Justice for those vulnerable and disadvantaged. One can help feeling that those who have Power & Control, also have their own agenda. Hence, we are now talking about Tragedies… whether it be the Saville investigation or Hillborought… where the victims and families have waited or fought for a minimum of 23 years to achieve some form of Fairness and Justice. How Disgraceful! How Appalling!

    Finally, it is my view that the Leveson Inquiry will conclude one important, fundamental and key fact, and that is the Fixation the press has on celebrities and elites; thus, how much little attention is given to REAL stories confronting Real people with REAL challenges. If we are serious about improving Upward Social Mobility in the UK, one first needs to acknowledge and understand the relevance of improving Public Policy amid the appalling failing ‘ordinary people’ face in our communities. Sadly, in its current form, there is no pressure for the Powerful News media to Change. Maybe, the News Media does not see Progress by what I have just said. Maybe, it only sees a ‘conflict’ between themselves and the loyalties they have always stayed strong with.

    The BBC has to show that it different; it is not simply willing to Change; it is committed to being Progressive in how it connects with community – real people, and real stories. As a tax-payer funded organisation, one would think it automatically has a ‘duty of care’ in this area – where it doesn’t simply mimic that of its main rival Sky News, but it becomes a Leader by nature of its shareholder’s – the Tax Payer.

    Ok, we have seen and felt the serious impact of what its like for the BBC, and other Powerful News organisations to get things ‘half right’ or ‘nearly right’ for far too long. Now, the BBC needs to show Leadership by having a natural demand upon itself, and those who are a fundamental part of its team, by aiming higher to ‘get it right!’

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