Calum Leslie

MA Multimedia Journalism student at Glasgow Caledonian University

The BBC, the press and Jimmy Savile

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Everybody’s talking about Jimmy Savile. Everyone’s blogging about him and tweeting about him and reading about him.

The scandal that’s been covered on the front, inside and middle pages of newspapers has thrown up – among many things – questions over the media’s coverage of the allegations against the former DJ.

In particular, the reasoning behind the BBC dropping a Newsnight investigation into Savile around 12 months ago has been under intensive scrutiny – not least by the BBC’s own Panorama: Jimmy Savile – What the BBC Knew, aired on 22 October 2012.

It has been interesting to attempt to match the information presented in that programme with what we are engaging with on a daily basis as postgraduate journalism students.

Editorial decisions, questions of the public interest and reliability of good sources are all topics of discussion in the classroom: and this has been a fascinating example of the consequences of these considerations – among many – being played out in the real, working world of the press.

The information uncovered in Panorama is there for all to see and judge individually.

Interviews with Newsnight journalists suggested a feeling that the story had been killed, and three days after Panorama aired the BBC decided to move editorial control of the corporation’s editorial coverage of the Savile story from BBC News director Helen Boaden to Radio 5 Live controller Adrian Van Klaveren.

What do these events tell us? Well – as a mere postgrad student I’m claiming no great understanding of the way the media works.

But, what’s interesting are the editorial values at play: considered by Charlie Beckett, who suggests that a BBC culture where ‘risk is rarely rewarded’ and ‘brave is a term of mockery’ is more likely to have led to the investigation being dropped than any cover up.

It’s an interesting take on events – and it will be equally interesting to see if the pending investigation into the decision finds any evidence to support it.

Beyond the BBC, the question of why no other news outlets pursued the story when it surfaced time and again has been asked with some force.

Whatever truth emerges, recent events remind us of what obstacles lie in the way – for better or worse – in the quest to produce good, strong journalism.

But there are plenty puzzles still to be figured out in this case.

The answers will be interesting – and significant – for us trainees right through to seasoned pros.

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Author: calumlesliejournalist

MA Multimedia Journalism student at Glasgow Caledonian University.

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