Commentary Magazine


Topic: Jimmy Saville

It’s Not Just the Church and Penn State

The unfolding scandal about sexual abuse at the BBC can be viewed as yet another blow to the image of the media. The network’s suppression of a story about a longtime show host’s alleged crimes ought to put a fork in the myth of the Beeb being the gold standard for impartiality and integrity. The fact that the BBC killed a story on its “Newsnight” broadcast while at the same time running tributes to the late Jimmy Saville, the man accused of molesting and raping several teenagers will haunt it for a long time to come.

But as much as this story tells us about the BBC, this latest tale of sexual misconduct is not dissimilar from other abuse scandals. Like the pedophilia outrages that rocked the Catholic Church and the Penn State University football team, there is a familiar pattern at work here. Powerful individuals used their positions to exploit young people in their charge while institutions looked the other way and then did what they could to ensure that no one found out. Investigators will, no doubt, discover what officials at the BBC knew about Saville and when they knew it. It is also to be hoped that the “journalistic decision” to spike the story about the investigation will also be fully explored. However, this episode ought to remind us that such crimes are not solely the province of Catholic priests or football coaches but can also be discovered at those institutions run by the supposedly enlightened classes.

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The unfolding scandal about sexual abuse at the BBC can be viewed as yet another blow to the image of the media. The network’s suppression of a story about a longtime show host’s alleged crimes ought to put a fork in the myth of the Beeb being the gold standard for impartiality and integrity. The fact that the BBC killed a story on its “Newsnight” broadcast while at the same time running tributes to the late Jimmy Saville, the man accused of molesting and raping several teenagers will haunt it for a long time to come.

But as much as this story tells us about the BBC, this latest tale of sexual misconduct is not dissimilar from other abuse scandals. Like the pedophilia outrages that rocked the Catholic Church and the Penn State University football team, there is a familiar pattern at work here. Powerful individuals used their positions to exploit young people in their charge while institutions looked the other way and then did what they could to ensure that no one found out. Investigators will, no doubt, discover what officials at the BBC knew about Saville and when they knew it. It is also to be hoped that the “journalistic decision” to spike the story about the investigation will also be fully explored. However, this episode ought to remind us that such crimes are not solely the province of Catholic priests or football coaches but can also be discovered at those institutions run by the supposedly enlightened classes.

Each set of circumstances may be different. But all these cases boil down to predators using their status and authority to rape and molest and institutions that valued their image more than the lives of children. These are odious crimes, but they are not the sole province of any particular group or class. They can be found anywhere. Those who think otherwise are not only deluded. They are enabling those who use the cover of seemingly respected professions to commit similar offenses.

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