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Sins of the Church and the BBC

  • 29 October 2012

The Jimmy Savile scandal in Britain shows the Catholic Church is not alone among trusted public institutions that have been undermined by their own culture of silence and denial.

The late Jimmy Savile was the legendary BBC entertainer whose sexual abuse of more than 300 young women was recently revealed amid accusations that the BBC suppressed its own reporting of the abuse because it feared tarnishing its brand.

Colm O'Gorman is an Irish activist who founded the clergy sex abuse victim support group One in Four. He wrote in The Tablet at the weekend of the hypocrisy of the BBC and his own involvement in the public broadcaster's investigation and reporting of abuse crimes in the Church.  

When [a powerful institution] either discovers serious wrongdoing within its own ranks, or indeed is itself guilty of wrongdoing, it often acts to cover up such corruption in an effort to protect its reputation and its authority.

He goes on to make the point that silence is the culprit; 'the silence of those who shared rumour and gossip but who failed to act to protect desperately vulnerable children and young people'.

Rumour and gossip lack credibility. They serve the damaging silence because they ensure the incriminating information is cloaked with uncertainty. They neutralise its potential to damage the institution but also to bring justice to the individuals who have been harmed. 

Another indication of cover up is managers doing everything that is required but not the one thing necessary. This might have been the case after then BBC head Mark Thompson was told at last year's Christmas party that BBC Newsnight's Savile investigation had been terminated. He gave this account to the New York Times:

I talked to senior management in BBC News and reported the conversation ... There is nothing to suggest that I acted inappropriately in the handling of this matter. I did not impede or stop the Newsnight investigation, nor have I done anything else that could be construed as untoward or unreasonable.

The 'one thing necessary' would have been to blow the whistle if there was a reasonable possibility that what was being said in hushed tones was true.

Whistleblowers are respected individuals willing to sacrifice their own professional future in order to help victims, who do not themselves have a credible voice. 

Thompson's professional future is set to lie at The New York Times Company, where he expects to take up the position of CEO two weeks