Savile inquiry has to lead to a cultural shift at the corporation
In an interview at the weekend, Anne Robinson predicted that by the time she walked into Television Centre this week, the BBC would have reacted to the Savile/sexual harassment issue with another 10 yards of guidelines.
An exaggeration, yes, but it’s to be hoped that the new inquiry announced this week – a three-pronged review into Newsnight, Jimmy Savile and sexual harassment – won’t simply add to the plethora of existing courses, including the ongoing Safeguarding Trust, which emerged following the last major scandal.
Courses are important, even if they often frustrate already stretched programme-makers, but the latest reviews have to produce more than mere box-ticking exercises.
What they promise is to establish whether there were any failings in BBC management and whether the BBC’s whistleblowing is fit for purpose. That potentially means a massive cultural shift in which people genuinely feel empowered to report failings without fear of consequence.
It’s a shift that George Entwistle promised to make happen in his first speech to staff as DG; he just probably didn’t expect it to be conducted so soon and against such a painful backdrop. As well as delivering on his vision, it’s his chance to come back fighting after what can only be described as a shaky start.
Media commentators and several staff question Entwistle’s assertion that he did not know the details of the Newsnight investigation into Savile, despite the fact he was aware of the tribute programmes set to air. This appears out of character for a corporation acutely aware of how its handling of sensitive subjects can backfire. Entwistle has also placed great emphasis on the need for greater collaboration between departments, noting that the BBC is too siloed.
He could be right that guaranteeing the “independence of news and current affairs” has to take precedence, but it still suggests a certain “lack of curiosity”, a phrase that former BBC execs Jana Bennett and Peter Fincham know only too well.
In short, the response from the Executive Board and the Trust was slow, unconvincing and inadequate.
The BBC also bungled its handling of the affair via Newsnight, first by failing to follow up on ITV’s Exposure for almost two weeks; then when it did address it last Friday night, failing to put anyone forward, either from Newsnight or the DG himself, leaving Gavin Esler tying himself up in Kafkaesque knots. Cue Twitter outrage.
Likewise, Dara O Briain complained that Mock The Week was leaned on to avoid discussing it; one brief mention got through. So much for its ballsy approach. But full marks to Have I Got News For You, which showed the right way to do it.
Sticking to its values and playing to its strengths – and fuelled in part by bitterness at Savile’s appearance on the show and a spoof outtake transcript doing the rounds – Merton, Hislop and guest host Clare Balding were angry, passionate and prepared to forego easy laughs to explore the issue. Faith restored.
Lisa Campbell is editor of Broadcast