Whistleblowing at BBC ‘worse’ than in Jimmy Savile’s time

Janet Smith’s review: ‘widespread reluctance’ remains within broadcaster to complain

By David HenckeAlex Varley-Winter and Mark Watts | 20 January 2016

Fear of whistleblowing at the BBC is “even worse” today than in paedophile Sir Jimmy Savile’s era, Dame Janet Smith concludes in her inquiry report.

In the draft report of her “review” of Savile’s paedophile activities at the BBC, which has been leaked to Exaro, Smith says that reluctance at the corporation to blow the whistle is greater because so many people there are freelance or on short-term contracts.

The retired judge’s report reveals how BBC employees were too afraid to report to managers Savile’s predatory sexual behaviour even when they were the victims themselves.

“The feeling that many workers have is that if they make any kind of complaint, they will not be used again” – Dame Janet Smith, review report

The BBC has introduced a policy of protecting whistleblowers, she says. “However, it is clear from the evidence,” she writes, “that there is still a widespread reluctance to complain about anything or even for it to be known that one has complained to a third party.

“I found that employee witnesses who were about to say something to the review that was even mildly critical of the BBC were extremely anxious to maintain their anonymity.”

“These people were, and still are, afraid for their positions. Even with modern employment protection, people fear that, even if they do not lose their jobs, their promotion prospects will be blighted if they complain.

“It was explained to me that, in one respect, the position is even worse today than it was years ago in that so many people are now employed on short-term contracts or on a freelance basis, with little or no job security.

“Positions at the BBC are very sought after. The feeling that many workers have is that if they make any kind of complaint, they will not be used again. There are many people ‘out there’ who will be willing and able to take their places.”

Smith, in a damning chapter on the BBC’s management culture, recounts examples where employees were unwilling to complain about sexual assaults by Savile, who died in 2011, or others at the broadcaster.

She cites an example of a whistleblowing failure beyond sexual harassment: “One witness, who for good reason has asked to remain anonymous, told me that, as personal assistant to a senior executive some years ago, she became aware that her boss was cheating on his expenses and in no small way. She approached the chief accountant but was told that this man was too senior to be challenged.”

Smith’s conclusions about whistleblowing in the BBC contrasts sharply with the findings of a separate report commissioned by the broadcaster from Good Corporation, a company that advises on corporate responsibility and business ethics.

Good Corporation’s report last year praised the BBC’s whistleblowing policy, while warning that awareness of it was “extremely low” within the broadcaster.

In addition, Good Corporation’s report praised the BBC’s child-protection policy for “a clear understanding of what needs to be done to keep children safe.”

The BBC had quietly removed its policies on child protection and whistleblowing from the Smith review’s terms of reference in 2014, two years after commissioning the inquiry.

Smith says in her report’s opening chapter: “The reason for this, as I understand it, was that the BBC, having examined its child-protection policy during the course of… my investigation, had appreciated (without my input) that there was a need for amendment and improvement to the relevant policy.”

In her concluding chapter, she adds: “Some of the factors that contributed to the BBC’s failure to realise the true nature of the man they employed, promoted and glorified had already been at least recognised if not fully remedied by the time the scandal broke in 2012.”

The BBC recognised the need for a child-protection policy, she says. “I do not know and cannot say to what extent that policy has been effective; looking into that issue was removed from my terms of reference.”

She says that the BBC had not previously regarded young visitors invited by a star such as Savile as its responsibility.

“The BBC also drew a distinction between girls of 15 and those who had reached 16. If 16-year-olds were picked up for sex on Top of the Pops by BBC employees, that was not a matter for concern. I am sure it would be today.”

Jimmy Savile inquiry reveals BBC’s ‘kid gloves’ for its stars

Related Stories : Child sex abuse, ‘Fernbridge’ and ‘Fairbank’: Exaro story thread

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