It may not be the best time ever for a blog about children to defend the BBC but that’s exactly why it needs doing and doing now. In the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal it seems the world is in a huge rush to condemn an institution I have grown up with for, basically, doing as little as the rest of the world. Broadsheets are claiming the BBC should show more accountability and less swagger while the tabloids are having a field day attacking both celebrities and the BBC and the revelations about Jimmy Savile continue unabated. And yet just what, exactly, did the mainstream press do when he was alive?
My wife grew up in the area close to Stoke Mandeville and it was scuttlebutt among girls then that you didn’t go near Jimmy Savile. Children in Need’s former chairman has been quoted as saying that Savile’s creepy behaviour had him banned from working with the charity. Then there was the spoof Have I Got News For You outtake where “Paul Merton lays in to” Savile for being “feared in every girls school in the land”. In casual chats with friends my age NO-ONE thought Savile was anything close to normal. And yet what did the Telegraph do with the potentially shocking story of a knighted celebrity peadophile? Er, not much. Probably not their demographic to be fair. But celebrity sex cases are the whole raison d’etre of the Sun and it’s now thankfully deceased sister the News Of The World. And did they break any Jimmy Savile sex stories? Did they investigate him? No. They were too busy hacking the voicemail of a murdered child and defaming footballers. There can only be two reasons for this. The first is that there was not enough evidence to run a story and the second is that Savile was untouchable. In either case this would apply as much to the BBC as it would to the papers.
Yes the BBC needs to look at it’s past procedures (I imagine having private quarters at the Beeb in which to seduce minors is as much a no-no these days as smoking at your desk). Yes they certainly need a full investigation as to why the Newsnight programme was stopped, although the editor in charge at the time, Peter Rippon, has resigned. It is not acceptable for any institution – publicly owned or not – to allow child abuse by it’s employees on it’s premises but then it’s not acceptable for an institution to allow illegal phone hacking or expenses claims either. Bad things happened in the past and I expect bad things continue to happen now. When they’re found out the individuals responsible need to be punished and their organizations need to learn lessons and fast.
But it’s time to stop whipping the BBC. Why? Because they are truly independent and the more I see of the election coverage in the States the more defensive I become of them. So you have to pay a licence fee? Your first licence fee will cost you £24 a month over 6 months but after that it’s £12 a month. Compare that to a Sky Entertainment subscription that starts at £21.50 a month. For that you get – yes – all the free to air channels anyway plus some stuff that will eventually be repeated on Channel 4 and 5. Want the sport? That will cost you an extra £21 a month.
Should the BBC modernize? It has. It’s online content is first class because it is truly independent. No one will tweet you links of the latest Jan Moir hate bilge or Samantha Brick FeMail troll that end in the BBC. No one will tweet the lefty rantings of Monboit and Toynbee from there either. With the BBC you get the facts and nothing but the facts. They piss off Alistair Campbell and they piss off right wing free marketers. Their journalists may occasionally nail their colours to a wall elsewhere (John Simpson wrote for The Spectator, Paul Lewis’ twitter account is a stream of human rights pleadings) but when they write for the BBC you know they are being impartial. In fact I have never found either to be anything less and they remain two of my favourite journalists to this day.
I have travelled for work and I have lived abroad. When I wanted impartial news about where I was staying or what was occurring back home I went straight to the BBC. I read their website. I watched their foreign news. I listened to the World Service. It never let me down. On the odd times I turned over to CNN I got Larry King being far too nice to people who didn’t deserve it followed by a stream of multinationals trying to sell me their services. The recent presidential debates in the US have to have how they played out on Fox and MSNBC treated differently because one is so obviously Republican and the other so obviously Democrat. If you want to know how a debate has played out here go directly to the BBC and do not pass go. Or watch any adverts.
I grew up with the Beeb. It’s given me iconic moments from Fawlty Towers to Brian Hanrahan counting them out and back in again, to the aforementioned Simpson “taking Kabul”. I have, however, never had cause to doubt it’s integrity and independence. I hope my children grow up to see the same. I think £12 a month is an absolute bargain to ensure this. The alternative is a media controlled by people who equally didn’t see the Savile scandal, though perhaps because they were too busy using any means possible to try and find a bigger scandal, when all the time one that was actually affecting children was right under their noses.