“The erupting scandal at Britain’s public broadcaster, the BBC, over allegations of sexual abuse involving late TV host Jimmy Savile is leading to awkward questions for the New York Times Co’s incoming chief executive, Mark Thompson,” Reuters* reports:
The BBC is facing police and parliamentary inquires into whether Savile, the eccentric host of the BBC’s legendary “Top of the Pops” music show who died last year at the age of 84, sexually abused a group of women and girls — some as young as 13 — over six decades. The probes follow a bombshell report aired earlier this month by rival broadcaster ITV about the allegations.
Former BBC executives admitted there had been rumors about Savile, but dismissed suggestions they had turned a blind eye to the indiscretions of celebrities.
On Sunday, the New York Times former executive editor Bill Keller wrote a column drawing a parallel between Savile and that of Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky, who was recently sentenced to what amounts to life imprisonment for molesting children. “Whether the BBC fell short in its reporting and missed the story or had the story and lacked the nerve, it is a significant embarrassment, compounded by the hard question of why the widespread rumors of Savile’s behavior were ignored for so long,” Keller wrote.
On Monday evening, the BBC altered its programme schedule to broadcast an hour-long tribute to an old man who had died aged 95, with fawning contributions from the likes of historian Simon Schama and Labour peer Melvyn Bragg.
* * * * * *
Eric Hobsbawm took part in one of the most extraordinary conversations ever on British television. Speaking in 1994 to the author Michael Ignatieff about the fall of the Berlin Wall five years earlier, the historian was asked how he felt about his earlier support for the Soviet Union.
If Communism had achieved its aims, but at the cost of, say, 15 to 20 million people – as opposed to the 100million it actually killed in Russia and China – would Hobsbawm have supported it? His answer was a single word: ‘Yes’.
Just imagine what would happen if some crazed Right-winger were to appear on BBC and say that the Nazis had been justified in killing six million Jews in order to achieve their aims. We should be horrified, and consider that such a person should never be allowed to speak in public again – or at least until he retracted his repellent views and admitted that he had been culpably, basely, wrong.
Yet the awful thing about the phenomenon of Eric Hobsbawm is that the exact opposite to this is what happened.
He was awarded a Companion of Honour by Tony Blair – one of the highest accolades it is possible to bestow upon a British intellectual. A professor of history, he was regularly lionised on the BBC and in the liberal newspapers as our ‘greatest’ historian.
In contrast, the BBC ignoring the Savile scandal is more a case of bias by omission:
As host of the television programs “Jim’ll Fix It” and “Top of the Pops,” Jimmy Savile was one of the British Broadcasting Corporation’s best-known figures in a four-decade career spanning the 1960s to the mid-1990s. But now he is the subject of numerous posthumous investigations into whether he sexually abused perhaps dozens of underage girls, some of them on BBC property.
The scandal has engulfed the corporation, which failed to investigate rumors or take seriously accusations about his behavior at the time. Perhaps even more damningly, it canceled a segment about the allegations that was scheduled to be broadcast last December on “Newsnight,” an influential evening current-affairs program.
About the same time, the corporation broadcast three tributes to Mr. Savile, who died last year at 84.
The BBC has said that the “Newsnight” segment was canceled not out of concern about the corporation’s reputation, but for “editorial reasons,” because the accusations could not be substantiated. But on Friday, its new director general, George Entwistle, announced that an independent panel would investigate whether any BBC executives improperly pressured “Newsnight.”
The director general of the BBC at the time the segment was canceled was Mark Thompson, the incoming president and chief executive officer of The New York Times Company. In a letter sent to members of Parliament on Friday, a BBC spokeswoman said neither Mr. Thompson nor Mr. Entwistle was involved in the “Newsnight” decision.
No wonder the BBC recently rejected placing a statue of George Orwell in front of its broadcasting offices. It wasn’t, as the BBC’s director general ludicrously claimed, because “Orwell would be perceived as too left-wing a figure for the BBC to honour.” It was much more likely that the modern day BBC didn’t want to make it that much easier for pundits to dub the corporatist network even more Orwellian than they’ve already become.
Especially when they goad their viewers into paying licensing fees with ads such as this:
And celebrating a historian who was unrepentant Stalinist also places this infamous BBC moment from the mid-naughts into fresh perspective:
Related: More on Savile from Mike McNally at the PJ Tatler.
* Reuters have had their own share of scandals in recent years as well, of course.