I find the whole thing a little ludicrous, to be honest with you.
Now, I am one of those who was shocked at the depth and breadth of the scale of the abuse that the likes of Jimmy Saville managed to get away with for such a long period of time, because that rabbit hole runs deep beneath the surface and many are yet to find themselves facing the legal judgement that should inevitably come from their participation. But on the other hand, for all the people who “knew” about it, I often stop and ask myself – did they really know anything at all? It’s all well and good to have heard the rumours that swim beneath the surface of things, but rumours are just that – rumours. They often have no factual basis for their existence, and therefore it is easy to take this sort of thing for granted. If anyone did know, for a fact, that such things were happening, then they should have reported it long ago. And if they didn’t, they should be prosecuted under the Obstruction to Justice laws.
But the current scandal threatens to undermine anything we may have learned from the Saville row.
For example, the Tory MP who was unceremoniously named on the Internet is threatening to sue the BBC amongst others. What does he hope to achieve from this? The brief and somewhat small monetary gain he will enjoy will forever be marred by a very personal accusation that he will have undone any progress that could have come out from these horrible events. By suing, he will give carte-blanche to the idea that a person in a position to pay for such legal services can force the silence of the media and others for any crimes they are being accused of. Meaning that those coming forward with allegations of them being abused, or having been abused, will be treated with much less seriousness or compassion than they should otherwise be afforded. Of course, there is an argument that some people will be falsely accused and some people will only be looking at the potential financial windfall that comes from victory, or being paid off. This is part and parcel of the modern world, and it would help if we were all more capable of standing by the principles by which most of modern law is founded; innocent until proven guilty.
An odd line that, when you look at the media today, happy to put on trial anyone and everyone involved in a scandal or legal case. And if they can’t find any dirt about the person taking the stand and defending themselves, then it’s easier still to dig up dirt and gossip about those for whom it must have taken a lot of bravery to come forward – the victims, judged even more harshly than the accused. Without the money or legal know-how to get around the system, they have in the past been easy targets, often the media creating an impossible situation by which a case is impossible to judge without prejudice. The media hasn’t cared about the innocent until proven guilty system for a long time; they just want your guilt, your mistakes, as it shifts more copies of their papers. It gets more tuning into their shows. More to their websites.
A couple weeks ago, the gaming press had a bit of a meltdown when it came to the idea of credibility and now, of course, it’s the turn of the media proper to have the spotlight shone on them. For I don’t think the BBC could really win in this situation, they had done nothing on the Saville accusations and now they were faced with a fresh set of allegations on someone. If they had taken their time to investigate properly, and something had happened or it had been leaked somehow, the BBC could stand accused of learning nothing from the Saville case. But in broadcasting the accusations sans-name of the MP, they fell into the other extreme end of the pool; not having done enough journalism or checks, by which the rest of the media can then suggest that… nothing had been learned from the Saville case! Yep, there wasn’t really a way for the BBC to win here. Anyone who thinks that there was a third way may be right, but those judging it needlessly are perhaps looking for no more than scoring of political points. That should also not be permitted, as it shines a poor light on the media.
Indeed, for the want of calling it a BBC scandal, in truth it’s a scandal for all the British Media. Because very few of them have the moral high ground in this situation. The Daily Mail has repeatedly found itself criticised and at odds with its reckless, judgemental online service that is no better than a gossip rag. The Mirror, the Sun and others have been the subjects of phone hacking and reckless paparazzo images. Even the Guardian and the Independent have had scandals. No-one really has a place to take the moral high ground. The BBC was caught out, but that really shouldn’t give everyone else the means to absolve themselves of the responsibilities of sensible journalism. Indeed, the reactions have been much the same as the gaming media scandal; that is one of everyone shrugging and saying “It’s not my responsibility for their problems”. It is, and if you are not learning from the mistakes, then you are part of the problem.
The British Press, at its best, is a force for unprecedented change and good; they uncovered the phone hacking, they uncovered the Jimmy Saville thing and they brought into the public consciousness the MP’s Expenses scandal. At its best, investigative journalism is profound and a powerful movement in the world today. It’s a shame that rather than do any actual investigative journalism and to get more and more people to their product, they will publish and regurgitate celebrity tittle-tattle as well as rumours founded and unfounded. They argue this is what a lot of people want; but surely that can be left to those companies like Heat or OK!, which gave rise to it? Why does a perfectly good news service want to fill itself with such inane drivel? Like the games industry, it’s diluting the quality. You can’t be everything. You shouldn’t try to be everything. You should focus on what you are at heart and do that, to the very best of your abilities.
And what when mistakes are made? Self-regulation clearly still isn’t working very well for most of them, not that that is much of a shock. But likewise, I wouldn’t particularly see a state-mandated body as being very good either, not least when you consider the sort of influence that News International has had on our politicians and most notably, our current Prime Minister. Who is still being caught out by his inextricable ties to this organisation and the people within it. Any body that such a powerful entity could have a chance of influencing at the highest level is clearly more dangerous as it gives it a power that is quite beyond that of anything they have currently. Ideally, you’d want something in the middle – you’d want the best of both worlds, people who understand the media but can be completely independent of it, be tough and fair and stand up for the basic principles of the press and what it can do. Ideal worlds and all, I know this is about as far-fetched as taking a holiday to Mars next year, but the press can’t continuously keep cannibalising from its brethren. There is no journalistic weight in passing all the blame there and destroying it for your own gain. Especially if you are certainly no stranger to scandal.
For all the problems at the BBC, I still think it does a pretty good job. Yes, I will say that it must have stronger leaders at the top; we can’t keep shedding people over each problem, that cannot serve the public interest. We need those who have the power and desire to impose changes that will benefit and strengthen the BBC and its ilk. The same can be said of any press outlet though. Or our government. The people at the top score points but fold like fresh laundry when the spotlight is cast upon them. We keep losing people to this and no-one learns anything, no-one has the balls to discipline anymore or take it on the chin and remind us that they will learn, and implement changes accordingly. For people must be allowed to learn from their mistakes, you can’t keep calling for peoples heads over every single mistake. Nothing happens then. Nothing is happening to change. We’re still largely in the same position as we were years ago. No-one has really, honestly made the kind of disciplined change that so many scandals and outrages should have instigated because the new people in the jobs simply haven’t been in the position to learn from those mistakes.
Mistakes happen. People are not perfect. But we can’t just keep throwing out people at this rate. Not least because in doing so, the law denotes that they can enjoy huge severance pay packages worth hundreds of thousands of pounds. This is simply too expensive a price to pay for not learning anything at all. We must improve our press, or become a laughing stock of the world. This means the press need to have the balls to take its blows, the decency to admit its faults and support its cousins when they are in trouble in a situation that they simply cannot win in and the moral clarity to refer any serious accusations to the police, rather than treat them as exclusives that sell units.
Change is needed. Because we’re simply not learning anything anymore.