Photo: Getty / Oli Scarff
For the last few week the BBC has been in a crisis after a huge scandal surrounding a cherished British TV host, Sir Jimmy Savile, who died last year, and allegations of Savile’s sexual abuse of women and children that stretch over decades finally came to light on a rival TV network.We’ve likened it to the Jerry Sandusky/Penn State scandal in the past, but it’s impact could be far bigger.
The scandal has seriously dealt a blow to the BBC News, after one of its key TV shows, Newsnight, was reported to have started producing a segment on the allegations against Savile but later cancelled the segment. While the editor of Newsnight said that this was because of editorial reasons, many have suspected that the show had somehow met with the corporation’s “wall of silence” that had enabled Savile to allegedly abuse for so long without getting caught.
This is a big problem for the BBC — the state-funded broadcaster depends on the public good will to keep its funding, and rival news organisations have long been extremely critical of the privileged position the organisation works from.
In a somewhat surprising twist, Newsnight’s coverage of Savile has been investigated by another BBC News show, Panorama. The show, due to air tonight, will reveal new emails and interviews that suggest Newsnight’s Savile segment was dropped not only for editorial reasons but also because it would have clashed with planned tribute shows for the late TV star. The BBC has already issued a correction to earlier statements from Newsnight’s editor, Peter Rippon, and Rippon has stepped aside as editor of Newsnight while an inquiry takes place (headed by the former boss of key BBC rival Sky News).
Speaking today, David Cameron was strongly critical of the BBC. “The nation is appalled, we are all appalled by the allegations of what Jimmy Savile did and they seem to get worse by the day,” he said after a speech in London. “The developments today are concerning because the BBC has effectively changed its story about why it dropped the Newsnight programme about Jimmy Savile.”
What’s remarkable here is that the BBC’s own reporters and it’s own investigation are already causing shock waves within the corporation, and could cause serious damage to the very institution they work for.
However, it may not all be bad. As Archie Bland of the Independent observes, few news organisations could be so publicly critical of their own bosses without management panicking. Whether this will be enough to regain the UK’s trust (and with that trust, their money), remains to be seen.
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