Savilegate: What the BBC should have done

Okay, hindsight is easy.

But believe me when I say I was uncomfortable at the BBC’s initial response to the gathering storm that is the late Sir Jimmy Savile.

For a media organisation, which you would think be in tune with the zeitgeist, the BBC showed worrying ineptness in its handling of the crisis.

A phrase on BBC Breakfast this morning that the BBC was ‘behind the curve’ of where public interest and opinion were, neatly sums up the lesson for all organisations caught up in scandal.

Regardless of the legal advice I’m sure they sought and acted upon, the BBC looked, in its passing over the case to the police, like it was also passing over responsibility for the fact that Savile was in their employ for decades and that their continual (and to some inexplicable) feeding of his celebrity status provided something of a sexual passe-partout.

The public will always be on the side of the victims in these cases and the BBC’s unwillingness to side publicly with the victims and to share in the public outrage made it look defensive and Pontius Pilate-like.

‘Behind the curve’ means they appeared out of sync with public opinion. The new DG George Entwistle talked about the importance of public trust in the BBC, a recognition that on this occasion the BBC did not do enough to justify that trust. He’s admitted it.

For an organisation like the BBC that is puzzling.

At least they have now ordered two internal inquiries into the affair, but the feeling will remain that their first response was all about damage-limitation and distancing itself from Savile and his alleged crimes. Some internal PR person may even have advised such a strategy in the name of Reputation Management. I hope not, but we’ll probably never know.

What the BBC and all organisations should do is in such cases is to apologise, take responsibility, acknowledge the pain of the victims and leave no stone unturned in getting to the bottom (no pun intended) of the allegations.


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