BBC reporters put their own bosses in the hot seat over their role in an expanding pedophilia scandal, airing footage from a previously unseen expose of one of the BBC’s most popular entertainers and quizzing senior management about why they canned the bombshell program.
Monday night’s powerful, but often awkward, broadcast centered on revelations that late children’s television star Jimmy Savile was one of the country’s most prolific predators, suspected of sexually assaulting more than 200 children over his decades-long career.
The scandal’s explosion has cut an ugly gash through the venerable broadcaster’s public image, a wound made all the worse by the revelation that executives there scrapped what would have been a hard-hitting expose of Savile’s misdeeds last year.
Tim Burt, a managing partner of the Stockwell Communications crisis management firm, said the BBC faces a major blow to its reputation at a time when it is entering delicate negotiations with the British government about the terms of its charter.
The broadcast set out to explain why the Savile investigation was never televised. The answer remains murkier than ever — the BBC stopped short of accusing any of its bosses of a cover-up — but viewers were given harrowing testimony about the scale of the abuse, including allegations that girls and, in at least one case, a boy, were forced to have sex with Savile in his car, his camper van, or dingy dressing rooms on BBC premises.
“I’m so full of self-disgust. I can’t believe that I did such things,” said Karin Ward, who described being cajoled into giving the presenter sexual favors when she was just a young teenager.
The program was bizarre because the BBC was effectively conducting a televised inquisition into itself. One particularly striking scene involved a journalist bombarding BBC boss George Entwistle with questions on what appeared to be his morning commute.
Reactions were mixed, with some viewers criticizing the BBC for not having pushed its executives harder and others congratulating the broadcaster on a compelling broadcast that must have been difficult to organize.
The Mirror’s deputy television editor Mark Jefferies said on Twitter that the program was “very thorough, compelling and depressing” and that it showed the BBC “at its best.”
“Sadly, it was highlighting BBC at its worst,” he said.
The Sun newspaper said that BBC chiefs were “accused of betraying license fee payers by misleading the public over pervert Jimmy Savile.”
BBC’s revenues are paid by license fees from viewers.
Asked how the BBC could have avoided some of the scandal, producer Meirion Jones answered: “Very easily. By broadcasting a story about Jimmy Savile and how he was a pedophile.”