Martin Hannan: Sex abuse must be investigated

The BBC’s problems with Savilegate show no signs of going away, but the clamour to give Auntie Beeb a kicking is a demonstration of the right-wing tabloid press at its very worst.

Since it neatly deflects attention away from the Leveson Inquiry which has exposed their disgusting abuses, certain newspapers whose owners detest the very existence of the BBC have made it their task to try todamage the Corporation permanently with a view, perhaps, to ending its very existence.

I have believed for a very long time that the BBC is one of the institutions which underpins British society. The Corporation, for ill and good, is the UK’s greatest broadcaster and as such has a very special role to play, particularly in the realm of news and current affairs.

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In common with a great many institutions in this country, the BBC has been revealed as an organisation which did not investigate thoroughly the allegations made against its employees several decades ago – note those words.

Unlike, say, the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, the BBC can’t whistle up a personal audience with, and apology from, the Pope himself as a means of soothing the troubled souls of people sexually abused by its employees. It must, however, investigate what happened with Savile and others and make the facts known.

Those troubled individuals who perhaps see compensation heading their way for abuse that happened many years ago should be aware of this. The civil courts in Scotland and England have a habit of not allowing claims for solatium, as it’s known in Scotland – or damages as the English term it – for injury done decades ago. This is despite the proven fact that sexual abuse in particular can cause mental health problems many decades after it took place. The question needs to be asked, why are judges so determined to suppress these cases?

The problem for the BBC is that if it does investigate any claims, it will find evidence that it took place, and it will be duty bound to pay compensation to the abused, especially if the Corporation wants to retain public trust.

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On other issues of trust, the BBC is under attack. There is another grouping who allege that the BBC fails to be impartial in its coverage of political issues. The extreme-right parties, a lot of Tories, a few Labour people – usually the ones with expenses 
problems – and some of my colleagues in the SNP make strange bedfellows, but they all sincerely believe the BBC is failing in its duty to be impartial.

I have to say that, in general, I disagree. Except for a few occasions, presenters and interviewers rarely go overboard to blast one party or the other – and I remind you it was Philip Schofield of ITV who has been disciplined for his outrageous stunt of brandishing a dubious list of alleged Tory paedophiles at the Prime Minister. There may on occasion be some BBC presenters and pundits who sometimes let their party allegiances overrule their normal sense, but no more than certain newspaper political correspondents I could name.

There are also undoubtedly some interviewers who, from time to time, give politicians of one party or other a harder grilling than they give to 
members of other parties.

But how do you know they are doing so out of party allegiance or because they simply don’t like the person they are interviewing, or because they’re just
terrible interviewers? BBC journalists, like the rest of us in the media, have their likes and dislikes, and that’s only to be expected as journalists interact with politicians a lot more than ordinary members of the public and therefore know their foibles.

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The big problem I see on a daily basis is that far too many interviewers and presenters on the BBC and other channels and radio programmes are just not very good at their job and have not learned the basic lesson that the public want to hear answers to sensible questions civilly put. When a politician is evasive, yes by all means point that out, but can we get back to the era when people actually listened to what an interviewee said?

In an era of openness, however, I can see why some people distrust interviewers and pundits. None of the top correspondents, presenters, pundits, interviewers and journalists in the BBC or ITV or any other major channel ever states his or her political allegiance. I make it clear every time I write about party politics that I am a member of the SNP and committed to campaigning for Scottish independence. I would invite Lord Leveson to decide that all those in the media who deal with political issues should make similar declarations, including stating how they vote.

Meantime it is not just the BBC which needs to look at the issue of historic sexual abuse. It is time for all of British society to address the undoubted problems that exist for thousands of people across Britain.

If the coalition government can conjure up an inquiry into the press in a nanosecond, surely it can take further what the Republic of Ireland did and pay independent experts to examine the whole matter and get the truth out into the open.

For only by exposing the truth will this horrendous boil be lanced. A Royal Commission on historic sexual abuse in the UK is long overdue.