Leak of Dame Janet Smith report on Savile and the BBC nominated for national media award

My  set of stories for Exaro News earlier this year revealing the contents of Dame Janet Smith’s report on Jimmy Savile’s activities at the BBC  has been nominated for a national media award.

The series of stories have been short listed in the breaking news story of the year  for next month’s Drum On Line Media awards – pitching it against TV coverage of the Shoreham air crash , the Alton Towers disaster and the BBC’s coverage of the Paris terror attacks.

The report which was highly critical of the culture at the BBC that allowed  Jimmy Savile to flourish. By the day after Exaro published the report every national paper was carrying the story.

The leaked report revealed how Dame Janet Smith, the retired judge who led the review, condemned BBC culture over Savile’s paedophile activities at the Corporation. She criticised the BBC for a “very deferential culture”, its “untouchable” stars and “above the law” managers.

In a series of articles, Exaro revealed how BBC employees were too afraid to report Savile to managers, and how BBC people feared blowing the whistle even more now.

The series of articles also exposed a BBC culture where celebrities were treated with “kid gloves” while managers drank heavily, and how the Smith review warned that “a predatory child abuser could be lurking undiscovered in the BBC even today.

The series of 22 stories published on the same day revealed how more than 100 BBC employees told Smith that they heard about Savile’s predatory sexual conduct, and how the review raised evidence of sexual abuse at Top of the Pops that went far wider than Savile.

Exaro also published more than 37,500 words of extracts from Smith’s entire report.

I have no idea whether  we will win the award but the short listing of the  Exaro articles show that investigative journalism is still alive at a time when Exaro has taken criticism from other national media for its coverage of other controversial issues like the child sex abuse scandal.

I would also like to pay tribute to my brave source and my colleagues at Exaro particularly Alex Varley Winter. Without the leak of the story people would not have been so well informed on the day when the report was published and Dame Janet Smith had to account for her report and the BBC director general, Tony Hall, had to explain what he was going to do about it.

 

Holding Tony Hall, BBC director general to account over Savile

BBC director general Tony Hall

BBC Director General Tony hall. Pic Credit:BBC

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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 the promises he made to survivors must be carried out.

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?

Leaked Savile Report: The BBC culture that failed to protect people from abuse

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Dame Janet’s highly critical report on the BBC’s handling of Jimmy Savile leaked to me  pinpoints  very serious issues at the Corporation which are still not resolved.

The official response from Tony Hall, the director general of the BBC, that this was a dark day for the BBC and it is all in the past does not wash.

Nor frankly does Dame Janet Smith’s plea to ignore this “early” draft. All the evidence  from people was taken before it was compiled and she has said she has not changed her conclusions. So will she rewrite it now?

Her draft report is not a whitewash. It is a closely argued analysis revealing a culture that allowed considerable sex abuse to flourish at ground floor level without a mechanism to report this to the top. This does not seem to have  changed and has conveniently let all the BBC’s top executives off the hook.

It reveals a  crass deferential attitude to celebrities – who could do anything they liked because they were ” untouchable” and people looked the other way. This is no different today – given the present cult of celebrity.

It also reveals an organisation that is more concerned with its public reputation that tackling the root of the problem- how to stamp out opportunities for sexual abuse.

Not only were under age  adolescents and children the victims of sexual abuse but so were  staff employed by the BBC – who did not complain because they wanted to keep their jobs.

And if anyone complained it seemed the BBC was woefully inadequate in investigating what happened – if it did indeed want to get to the real truth. That failure extended to its own investigations into the issue by its own investigative journalists who found their work dropped or sidelined.

When the BBC does publish the report it will have a lot of explaining to do. On the central issue of child sex abuse Dame Janet concludes that there could still be a paedophile lurking in the BBC and thinks the chance of this being exposed is now worse than then – because many people are on short term contracts and would worry if they could work again.

Her findings directly contradict a report commissioned by the BBC last year from the firm Good Corporation which praises the BBC’s policies in preventing a repeat of child sex abuse. Which is right?

Also it is still clear  the whistle blowing process at the BBC, is, at best, not properly promoted ( say the Good Corporation) or worse, virtually non existent  (  says Dame Janet’s review).

So I don’t think anyone should be fobbed off by complacent attitudes from the BBC and attempts to move the debate to the dim and distant past,. The BBC failed a group of survivors of sexual abuse by doing nothing then – and could be doing the same now.