The focus of the documentary
is the question of why BBC's Newsnight
dropped its investigation into Jimmy Savile. Unfortunately, the programme fails to reach a definitive answer to the question. However, the detailed examination of the issues makes for compelling viewing.
The documentary must also make for highly uncomfortable viewing for senior managers at the corporation. The programme only scratches the surface of the allegations of sexual assaults against Jimmy Savile. Yet it reveals that managers at the organisation had known about such allegations since the early seventies. Senior managers are revealed to have been content with Savile's mere denial.
The programme shows how Savile was able to exploit his position as a BBC star and a famous charity fund-raiser to gain access to vulnerable children. It details how he used his position as presenter on the wildly popular Jim'll Fix It
to exploit children. All of this makes for disturbing viewing. Even more harrowing is the interview with Karin Ward, which one watches in the knowledge that Newsnight
had taken this from a woman suffering from cancer, and, even though they had independent corrobation, Peter Rippon, the editor, decided to kill the story.
The BBC claim that the story was dropped because it had been about the Surrey Police investigation in 2007 is clearly refuted by the Panorama
investigation. Yet, due to the refusal of senior BBC managers to be interviewed, the journalists were unable to ascertain the real reason for the decision. The viewer is left with the suspicion that the BBC was already committed to broadcasting a series of programmes eulogising Savile and an expose of him as a paedophile would have been too embarrassing.
The documentary has already forced BBC senior managers to make a number of corrections to assertions previously made. In the light of the revelations, the BBC has acknowledged that the Newsnight investigation was not into the Surrey Police's handling of the allegations. This admission alone invalidates the BBC's rationale for dropping the Newsnight
story, a rationale that had been parroted by the BBC's Director General, the Chairman, and the head of editorial policy.
By the end of the Panorama programme, the credibility of BBC's senior management lay in tatters. The viewers were left with an enigma. The BBC is left with no rationale for pulling the Newsnight
investigation. Yet, it had an obvious interest: the reputation of the BBC and the trust that the British public have invested in it. Paradoxically, the broadcast of the Panorama
documentary shredded that reputation and undermined the very basis for such trust, yet simultaneously provided a reason to hope for a better BBC; one that can live up to its own ideals and best practices.
The broadcast of Jimmy Savile - What the BBC Knew
shows the BBC is not a monolithic entity. It also underlines the importance of who determines the news agenda; the stories that are not told.
Jimmy Savile - What the BBC Knew
is an exemplary illustration of all that is best in television journalism.