The publicly funded national broadcasting giant has been brought into deep disrepute as a result of inquiries into the lifestyle of its former presenter Jimmy Savile.
Hundreds of men and women have come forward with their testimonies and allegations of sexual abuse against Savile, as part of a huge investigation into whether the BBC covered up ongoing sexual abuse from the 1970s onwards.
It is estimated that up to 300 young people may have been sexually abused, over the 40-year period leading up to the presenter’s death in 2011. Campaigners have called for his body to be exhumed, while his estate has been frozen to shore up a potential compensation fund.
Meanwhile, police forces across the country have unearthed old files — including those of the Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe — and made arrests, as the inquiry continues.
In November, controversial entertainer Freddie Starr was arrested in Warwickshire by Operation Yewtree officers, on suspicion of sexual offences. He was bailed after a number of hours of questioning.
Ex-pop star Gary Glitter was also arrested and bailed after being questioned as part of the inquiry. And, amidst the general hue and cry, the innocent Lord McAlpine was wrongly outed in the press as being a paedophile. At the time of writing, three others have been arrested, including celebrity publicist Max Clifford.
In December, an independent review will report on BBC Newsnight’s decision to drop a programme about allegations against Savile. Led by former Sky News head Nick Pollard, it is expected to conclude that there were management failures over the dropping of the Newsnight report about Savile shortly after his death. The findings will come just a month after Lord Leveson’s inquiry into phone hacking revealed serious failings at news agencies in the UK.
The Leveson inquiry found there had been a culture of serious malpractice and intrusion into the lives of many celebrities and into the families of crime victims. It is a difficult, dark time for giant media organisations, whose purpose is to expose bad practice in other organisations and present honest and unbiased reports.
The inquiry into the culture and practices at the BBC, during the era of Savile’s alleged sexual abuses, is led by former appeal court judge Dame Janet Smith. It is expected to criticise the BBC’s child protection and whistle-blowing policies as not fit for purpose.
According to a BBC poll, its own reputation as a trusted organisation has been damaged. A telephone survey, by ComRes, of more than 1000 British adults found only 45 per cent of those asked agreed the Corporation was trustworthy, compared with 62 per cent of people interviewed in 2009.
Even the police expressed dismay at the Corporation’s failure to act on tip-offs. At a Scotland Yard briefing on Operation Yewtree, Metropolitan Police chief Bernard Hogan-Howe described the pattern of alleged behaviour as ‘awful’.
When asked why no action had been taken against Savile for almost 50 years, the police commissioner said people had relied too much on his reputation and his word that he had done nothing.
Several former colleagues told the press that Savile’s sexual exploits during the 1960s and 1970s were widely known and generally kept hushed up due to his ability to pull in money and viewers.
News reports claim that colleagues knew Sir Jimmy was a predator and heard him boast of his ‘exploits’, although not one person saw fit to report it to their superiors, let alone the police.
An ITV documentary disclosed that Surrey Police investigated an allegation of indecent assault made against Jimmy Savile in 2007. The incident was said to have occurred at a children’s home in Staines in the 1970s and Savile was interviewed under caution. The matter was referred to the Crown Prosecution Service, who advised there was insufficient evidence for further action.
When asked about this, Savile’s former colleague and Childline founder Esther Rantzen told Sky News, ‘There were always rumours that he behaved very inappropriately, sexually, with children.
‘One child’s word against the word of a television icon, one who was renowned for raising money for charity, who knew everyone from the Prime Minister to Princess Diana, who was knighted by the Queen and the pope, I think no single complainant dared speak out before’.
One is reminded of the words of Luke 12:2-4: ‘There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs’.
But for many of Sir Jimmy’s alleged victims, full public disclosure is 40 years too late — too late to erase the memories and the years of silent shame.
The motto of the BBC — ‘Nation shall speak peace unto nation’ — is based on Micah 4:3. Whether the BBC can be trusted again to speak truth to this nation is yet to be seen.