Chairman questions the corporation he represents

Can it REALLY be that no one inside the smug BBC knew what that psychopath was doing?

Lord Patten – Daily Mail Oct 28, 2012

The filth piles up. As  the Savile story continues to unfold, threatening and destroying reputations, three issues particularly trouble me.

Above all else, I think of the victims of abuse – women and men – marooned for decades with terrible memories of physical and mental torment which, even when they had the courage to report them, no one apparently believed. Not the police. Not the newspapers. Not the BBC.

When I was asked to become Chairman of the BBC Trust, I was proud and honoured.

Proud because the BBC is our national broadcaster, praised around the world for the values it has tried to stand for. But also because  it is part of our civic culture, trying to represent the best of the society we are and want to be.

Today, like many who work for the BBC, I feel a sense of particular remorse that abused women spoke to Newsnight, presumably at great personal pain, yet did not have their stories told as they expected. On behalf of the BBC, I apologise unreservedly.

There’s a second reason the BBC’s reputation is on the line. All objective evidence tells us the BBC is one of the most trusted institutions in the UK.

It is by far the most widely trusted source of accurate and balanced news.

I know it is far from perfect and can seem smug or too metropolitan. But day in, day out, it depends on the public trust which underpins it far more than the licence fee. At its best, it is trusted because the public who pay for it think, rightly, that they own it.

In recent years, some of our greatest institutions have been discredited one after another: Parliament; the police; the press.

Now the BBC risks squandering public trust because one of its stars over three decades was apparently a sexual criminal; because he used his programme and popularity as a cover for  his wickedness; because he used BBC premises for some of his attacks; and because others – BBC employees and hangers-on – may also have been involved.

Moreover, can it really be the case that no one knew what he was doing?

Did some turn a blind eye to criminality? Did some  prefer not to follow up their suspicions because of this criminal’s popularity and place in the schedules? Were reports of criminality put aside or buried? Even those of us who were not there at the time are inheritors of the shame.

All this touches on my third concern. The BBC should reflect our society’s ethical values. How has this been shown by the relationship between our dismal celebrity culture and our values system? How can we have allowed so many people and institutions to be mired in fawning over one awful man – a  devious psychopath?

He was received into the heart of the Establishment; feted from Chequers to the Vatican; friend to Royals and editors. How did we let it happen? And could someone like this con us all again?

The BBC Trust is not like the board of a private company. It was set up apart from the Executive: it is the sovereign strategic authority, its job to supervise on behalf of licence-fee payers how the BBC spends their money.

Its task is to ensure compliance with the law and editorial standards, so that objectives set in the interests of audiences are met.

We do not have operational control over the BBC and its output. I cannot and would not seek to  interfere in editorial decisions, not least because we are the court of appeal for complaints made about programme content.

I guess that when the Savile bombshell burst we in the  Trust could have done a bit of grandstanding, to little practical effect except to win a few  headlines.

The BBC chose instead to press for full co-operation with police. Then we established two independent inquiries into the whole sordid mess.

Third came the appointment of an adviser to Director-General George Entwistle to assist his review of sexual harassment policies and practice.

The police were keen that the BBC should not cut across their own investigation. When we knew that we would not impede their work, we set in motion our own separate inquiries.

The first inquiry, led by Nick Pollard, former head of Sky News, will look at all aspects of the Newsnight report: the reasons for dropping it, whether editor Peter Rippon was leaned on by senior executives to drop the item, how the fallout of  the decision was handled, and how the editor came  to produce a blog explaining his decisions in terms that no longer seem accurate.

Mr Pollard will be assisted by his own legal team.

I have instructed Mr Entwistle that staff must co-operate fully. Clearly, the sooner the report emerges the better, but no one should lean on Mr Pollard to cut corners.

We want and need a  full account of what happened, wherever its conclusions lead. The Trust will publish it and take whatever steps are necessary.

The second inquiry will be conducted by former Court of Appeal judge Dame Janet Smith. She will examine the BBC’s culture and practices in the years that Savile worked there.

She will also examine whether BBC child protection and whistleblowing policies are good enough. Due to the nature of the subject, her report is likely to take longer to produce.

Third, the Director-General has appointed a distinguished QC, Dinah Rose, to advise the BBC on its sexual harassment policies and practices.

The independent inquiries   are not smokescreens behind which we can hide. They must and will get to the truth of what  happened. The BBC must tell the truth and face up to the truth about itself, however terrible.

Other issues emerge from this dreadful mess. The BBC must retain its capacity to conduct investigative journalism without fear or favour.
That should include looking at itself, as Panorama did last week at Newsnight.

This sort of journalism is and must remain part of our core mission. But that is no justification for a culture that encourages a lack of professional comradeship, leading to apparent infighting which bemuses our audience. The BBC should expose itself to proper scrutiny and accountability, not devour itself.

Let me make one final personal point. When I agreed to become Chairman of the Trust, my focus was to raise programme standards while helping to make a more efficient organisation.

With the summer Olympic coverage, plus programming such as the Shakespeare histories The Hollow Crown and Tom Stoppard’s brilliant adaptation of Parade’s End,  I thought we were on our way.

Now my immediate priority is to get to the bottom of the Savile scandal and to make any and every change necessary in the BBC to learn the lessons from our independent investigations. 

David Cameron is entirely correct to say that unless the BBC puts it house in order, we will be fatally damaged. How could the BBC, for example, ever cover sexual crime in other organisations unless we deal thoroughly with what happened in our own?

So no grandstanding, no covering our backs. My primary task with my fellow trustees is to sort this out, as fast as we can, once and for all. Our public expects no less.

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