The press launch of Dame Janet Smith’s forensic review into Savile’s predatory activities at the BBC was an impressive affair.
Survivors are naturally disappointed that she failed to land a terminal blow on senior management at the BBC. They did not have the satisfaction of seeing heads roll for Savile getting away with sexually or indecently assaulting 72 people at different BBC venues or in private flats after attending BBC events. But it was not a whitewash.
It was impressive for two reasons. Dame Janet is a formidable performer ( as I found out when I tried to sneak two questions past her) and had a real grasp of the issues of why Savile had been able to get away with his monstrous behaviour for decades.
Tony Hall – who looked visibly moved after reading her horrific findings – did not take the easy way out. He did not as I feared say this was a dark period for the BBC but now everything was OK after new measures had been taken to protect children and encourage whistleblowers. He took it on the chin the modified conclusion of Dame Janet that there could be another manipulative, charming, clever paedophile still working at the BBC or any other major organisation. He also pledged to do something about it.
Dame Janet who in my view gratuitously threw away half her terms of reference dealing with recommendations for new child protection guidelines has laid down a pretty tough schedule to make sure something is really done at the BBC.
As she says “My recommendation is that within, say six months of this report, the BBC should set out its official response to all the reports and should explain what its current rules, policies and procedures are in respect of each of the areas which have been open to criticism and demonstrate that these apply current best practice.”
“…the BBC should.. commission an independent audit of the operation of those rules, policies and procedures. It should set out the timeframe in which each of these areas will be subject to audit, how the audit will be undertaken and should confirm that the results of each audit will be made public. Further, it should undertake now to make any changes to procedures recommended by those audits to ensure that it maintains best practice in these extremely important areas. “
She also called for greater commitment to whistleblowers at the BBC and for the BBC to change its hierarchy and stop its worship of “Talent” who like Savile seemed to be able to get away with anything as a BBC VIP.
Tony Hall has to be held accountable to do all of this. His contrition should not been seen as a one day wonder. He owes it to brave journalists like Meirion Jones and Liz MacKean, who were determined to expose Savile but were thwarted by the BBC establishment. He owes it, above all to all the survivors, and any future victim of sexual abuse on BBC premises.
All this will come when the BBC is under enormous pressure to cut costs savagely under Charter Renewal and with Rupert Murdoch seeking to destroy the BBC as a formidable media player. But it must be done.
He also ought to commit the BBC to playing a much bigger role in investigative journalism and use its resources to bear down remorselessly on issues like child sex abuse and corruption that need exposing. The pressure for that won’t come from Dame Janet.
I got the impression yesterday that investigative journalists were not Dame Janet’s favourite people. She thought that an accurate and comprehensive leak of her report on a issue of major importance in a publicly funded institution was not in the public interest. Really?