Saturday 10 November 2012

I woke up to George Entwistle being grilled on Radio 4. By the time I went to bed he had resigned. You can have your own beliefs about whether or not Jimmy Savile was acting in a complete vacuum and therefore whether people should be answering some pretty serious questions. But you can’t have any questions about the most important thing to sort out being a Tory peer being accused of being a paedophile when it comes to finding someone responsible and sacking them.  It’s not great to say someone is a child rapist when they aren’t – I think it’s fair to say that is something we could all agree on. Of course it is bad that someone was rumoured to be a paedophile, but it is worse that there are victims of sexual abuse surely?

What has happened is that the narrative of a story of systematic sexual abuse by people in positions of power over vulnerable children has moved on to be about the journalistic integrity of those investigating said story. Yes, clearly due care to the practices of professional journalism are important. Very important. If you’re the BBC you really shouldn’t go fucking up like this – not checking details and such when checking a story. And if you’re the BBC you really shouldn’t go trumpeting a news story that will get people speculating about who the person is – if you’re not sure who that person is.

They didn’t name anyone, though. Yes, that’s a pretty weak defence – because it wasn’t a well kept secret who it was meant to be.

Entwistle seems to be a very good egg. And he definitely doesn’t seem to have done something too wrong. But, he sounded quite at sea when John Humphrys was at him on Today. There is an extremely unfortunate irony in exquisite and unflinching BBC journalism slicing through the layers of poor journalism in evidence here. (There’s a transcript here if you missed it.)

A lot of people have been getting defensive of the BBC around recent matters. And rightly fucking so. The BBC is fucking great. But part of of being fucking great is holding your hands up to shit, standing proud to someone throwing shit at you – and then cleaning off the shit with whatever dignity you can muster (when covered in shit dignity is not a premium). Jimmy Savile did not operate in a bubble. He wasn’t the only person within the BBC engaging in questionable sexual behaviour with minors – there is little doubt of that. If people exist there who were part of this then they need calling to justice. Ditto whoever was groping women if they are still there.

So – piss poor journalism on investigating paedophile activity; needing to investigate Savile, other people. Did Entwistle need to go for being so out of the loop on this story? Well. Maybe. No, I don’t think he does. He does sound bad, though, doesn’t he? I mean Newsnight is hardly low profile right now. Stuff about paedophiles and rape is hardly something to be getting wrong at the best of times but at this-of-times it is definitely not in the BBC’s interest. So, what’s my point? Well maybe he should have been monitoring things a bit more closely. Maybe someone – whether it be him or someone acting on his behalf – should have made sure he was very much kept up to date on all investigations by any BBC journalist that would be broadcast to an audience.

That’s me taking the alternative view to my own. I think whoever is in charge of Newsnight should be important enough to take responsibility for this. This tends to be the Editor of such a show – or in this case an acting Editor, given that the substantive post-holder is suspended after the Savile affair. If the Director General has to vet every single piece of content that goes into the public domain then maybe the BBC is fucked and should just make Strictly Come Dancing and broadcast the Olympics.

Much like the reality, this blog has concentrated itself with the issues surrounding a bit of bad journalism. But that was the point I was making so I don’t feel too bad about it. It needs to be remembered that pointing fingers at the BBC, Newsnight, Entwistle, Steven Messham for making a mistake should not overshadow the real bad things. A mistake in judgement or an error in identifying someone is forgiveable. Much like people sidetracking the Savile stuff with different issues (that may very well have been wrong) should not detract from allowing victims of child abuse to come forward and perpetrators of sexual crimes to be punished.

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