Savile at the BBC – corporate responsibility

The Savile Report, due to be published in about six weeks, partly leaked today, although appearing to be sharply critical, broadly says that those running the BBC are not responsible because senior people did not know what Savile was up to. Given the extent of the Jimmy Savile’s crimes of sexual assault, rape and attempted rape, across the premises and some of the victims as young as nine, few find this defence credible.

In any case, as seems to be the case so often these days, the culprit is now deceased and the then director general, who might perhaps at one time have been held responsible, has now retired. I am sure I am not alone in wondering why we bother spending money to conduct lengthy enquiries that make no material difference when they finally produce a report.

It is not difficult for senior people to make it very clear that there are some things they do not wish to be told, but that these same things they might tolerate, even encourage, just as long as they bring in money. The director general of the BBC, Tony Hall, openly stated today that Jim’ll Fix It was a hugely popular programme, bringing in much needed ratings, and, therefore,  no one within the corporation wanted to bring Savile down. In other words, rumours were all too readily ignored because of corporate self interest.

This is the morally bankrupt corporate culture we see so frequently today. It amounts to a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell‘ management position. It lets the big earners off the hook, and provides little or no protection for ordinary people. It is time for highly paid individuals within institutions to be held personally accountable for criminal behaviour that is allowed to go virtually unchecked on their watch. So often we see today that greed overrides all other goals and victims are seen only as ‘collateral damage’ in the corporate world.

Part of a chief executive’s responsibility should be to run a ‘clean’ set up. Failing to do this should have them quaking in their boots!  At the moment they can shrug it off and get away with almost anything that may transpire completely unscathed. Whenever there is widespread suspicion of crimes or, more generally, of undesirable behaviour going on with no action taken to stop it, on the basis that there is no paper trail, evidence is non-existent or scant, or quickly ‘evaporates’, or is not investigated, all this has to be seen as no defence.

There is a duty to act. The law needs to underline the principle that behaviour within an institution is the responsibility of those running it and that there is a duty to investigate it, and to protect whistleblowers who should not have to feel their careers are in jeopardy if they speak up. When an institution has been allowed to become rotten in some way, for example,  in disregarding physical and mental safety in the workplace, in habitually underpaying workers, in expecting unreasonable hours to be worked,  or in allowing habitual payment of bribes to take place, this must be taken as evidence of criminal negligence on the part of those running the institution. 

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Instead we have done everything possible to protect the highest paid amongst us and almost nothing to protect those at the bottom of the pile. The erosion of bodies to protect the little man (trades unions, free legal advice, publicly funded services) has allowed a veritable raft of horrendously unjust practices to flourish, including criminally corrupt media practices such as phone hacking, corruption within the police forces, and excessive risk-taking that amounts to criminally unsound banking practices.

The spirit of the law is being flouted by smooth corporate operators assisted by clever lawyers.  It is wrong to say, as Tony Hall, director general of the BBC, said on the Victoria Derbyshire Programme today, that the Savile case is a ‘dark chapter for the BBC’, as if that chapter is now closed. No one has  been held personally responsible, and so the only assumption that can be drawn is that behaviour that is rotten to the core can continue to take place with impunity within the corporate culture. 

There is an implicit cost-benefit calculation made which may come out in favour of the corporation choosing not to act on suspicions of disreputable activities. In other words it may be in the financial interest of the chief executives to let such behaviour continue to be practiced within the institution they are hired to oversee. So long as this approach continues the culture that permits greed to flourish and damage to be done with impunity marches on.

We await the publication of the report on Savile and the BBC, by which time the public will be confused, bored or uninterested in news that will come to look ‘old hat’ or to be merely vindictive.

The issue here is one of corporate responsibility. The culture must be changed so that in the future chief executives know that they will be held to account personally. Disregard for human rights, failing to protect the environment, underpaying workers, over-clever ‘tricksy’ forms of tax evasion or avoidance, bankers knowingly taking undue risks to make excess profits, these are all cynical, money-making activities for which individuals should be held accountable under the law.

There is no ‘trickle down’ gain to be made from allowing this culture to continue.  These are not victimless crimes, they are crimes perpetuated against ordinary people. Justice dictates that the people must be protected from excessive corporate greed and from the utter disregard for the human consequences of corporate actions.

 

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