24 Mar 2015

Is the BBC punishing Savile whistleblowers?

From Nine To Noon, 9:28 am on 24 March 2015

An award-winning journalist whose documentary exposing Jimmy Savile as a serial sex abuser was pulled by the BBC, says he and others behind the revelations have been systematically driven out by the broadcaster.

Investigative journalist Meirion Jones

Meirion Jones Photo: SUPPLIED

Meirion Jones says there remains a very powerful group of people at the BBC who believe the truth about Jimmy Savile should never have come out. 

After Savile died in October 2011, Meirion Jones, then a BBC Newsnight producer, and his colleague Liz MacKean made a documentary that identified Savile as a serial abuser who used his status as a television personality to get access to young girls.

Their expose was scheduled for broadcast in December 2011, but the BBC pulled it, instead running tributes to Savile as part of its Christmas broadcasts.

The allegations about Savile only came to light 10 months later, after ITV broadcast its own investigation which resulted in a major police investigation.

Four weeks after that the BBC's own prestigious news programme, Panorama revealed just how much the BBC knew, including why it pulled the Newsnight documentary and suggested key figures at the BBC had known for years about Jimmy Savile's behaviour.

Meirion Jones and Liz MacKean were both interviewed for the Panorama programme. Meirion Jones says they were warned by BBC managers that if they cooperated with Panorama they would never work for the BBC again. Both have since lost their jobs with the public broadcaster. The editor of Panorama has also lost his job.

There's just a small group but unfortunately very powerful people at the BBC who believe that the problem was that the story came out. If Savile had stayed concealed, hidden for the rest of time, that would have been the ideal solution.

Meirion Jones says a senior BBC executive went as far as describing himself and Liz MacKean as traitors to the BBC.

He says the broadcaster's attitude is an example of institutional failings that have been identified across other areas of British society, including the media and the police. He says there were people in the BBC who were told that Jimmy Savile was a paedophile but they did nothing.

I think the key lesson that has been given by this is 'don't be a whistleblower'. If you blow the whistle your career will be wrecked. And that is a very dangerous message for an institution like the BBC to give. If only any of the people in Radio 1 or top of the Pops who had known what Savile was doing had come forward.

Meirion Jones spoke to Kathryn Ryan on Nine to Noon.