I ONCE wrote a speech for Jim Wallace, then leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats which included a terrible phrase about Jim fixing it.
Thankfully, it never made the second draft. Now after so many horrible revelations the reality of Jimmy Savile’s contemptible behaviour is laid bare. The public know about his exploits first because of an ITV documentary and then this week’s disturbing but strong BBC Panorama programme. The written press have unearthed more.
It is now clear that Newsnight, one of the BBC’s flagship news programmes, had the Savile sexual abuse story last year, including an interview with a women who was abused. The editor of Newsnight pulled the story, yet last Christmas millions watched a BBC tribute to Savile’s years on television.
Conspiracy theorists claim that Newsnight did not televise the story as it would have meant the tribute being dropped, but I just do not buy that.
This week, while being roasted by a House of Commons committee, BBC boss George Entwistle stated there was no connection. He said it on the record and in the face of persistent questioning. He has effectively sacked the responsible Newsnight editor, praised Monday’s Panorama and has allowed the BBC to conduct channels-wide interviews of people highly critical of the organisation. Newsnight journalists who disagreed with last year’s decision have been allowed to make plain their views. Independent judge-led inquiries are now under way.
The BBC, far from being pilloried, should be encouraged to open itself up for inspection and encourage their journalists to report facts and to co-operate with the Crown Prosecution Service. Would any other news organisation behave in this way?
Hardly. How did News International behave when the phone hacking scandal erupted? Not with openness. The Savile scandal and the horror too many young children faced at the ogre’s hands is being properly investigated.
Yet on the back of this, the Prime Minister has chosen to question the public’s trust in the BBC. In reply Chris Patten, chairman of the BBC Trust and a former Conservative Cabinet minister has challenged the UK government not to interfere with BBC independence.
But Tory MPs, no fans of the BBC, are demanding Patten withdraws this entirely proper observation. The Tory attacks on the BBC mirror those in the Murdoch press. This looks like a PM worrying about the impending Leveson Inquiry, which is set to recommend statutory press regulation. The PM’s pal, Rupert Murdoch, however, wants no restrictions on his media outlets.
Labour and the Lib Dems support statutory regulation. The Tories need some arguments against regulation. The BBC is regulated both by Ofcom, the broadcasting watchdog, and by the trust that Chris Patten chairs.
So the Tory charge will be that regulation can fail. That does not wash. Instead of attacking the BBC the focus should be on helping Savile’s victims.
• Tavish Scott is Liberal Democrat MSP for Shetland