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Women's groups press BBC on Savile sex scandal

By Claire McCormack   |   Nov. 15, 2012 at 5:34 PM   |   Comments

{WOMENSENEWS}-- Five women's groups in the United Kingdom are pressing for an examination of possible gender bias within the British Broadcasting Corporation, where the director general was recently forced to resign over the company’s mishandling of two child sex-abuse scandals, reported the Guardian.

As the story erupted, so too did reaction from the organizations Eaves, EVAW Coalition, Object, Equality Now and Rape Crisis England and Wales.

In a letter to then-Director General George Entwistle, which was copied to Prime Minister David Cameron, the groups called on the BBC to “work closely with police and other investigations into the failure to protect girls and boys from Savile by other public institutions" including the National Health Service,referring to Jimmy Savile, the former BBC presenter who has been accused of sexual abuse.

The letter said "institutional sexism" could hold some blame in the saga and demanded that the corporation's two internal inquiries work alongside sexual violence experts.

One inquiry will address the actions of the deceased presenter at the center of the story, Savile, and how he went undetected during his career. The second will examine why a Newsnight report about the allegations against Savile was pulled in November 2011 and a flattering tribute was broadcast instead, around the same time.

In the letter, lobbyists call for a rigorous examination of the “culture and practices of the BBC that allowed Savile to abuse on the scale and over the period of time that he did.”

They also suggested that restoration of public confidence in the BBC could be accomplished if the broadcaster prioritizes funding for groups that support survivors of sexual abuse through Children in Need, a BBC charity in the U.K.

According to the BBC’s official site, the corporation has valued its female contributors, commentators and media personalities since the early 1920s.

As of 2008, women held an estimated 40 percent of senior management positions at the company. Yet, in the wake of another British media scandal, a series of former BBC female staff members are accusing the BBC of gender discrimination when it comes to filling top-level positions, The Independent reported.

Britain's national broadcaster has confirmed 20 current members of staff now face allegations of sexual misconduct, reported the Guardian. The BBC press office has stated that some of the allegations date from decades ago but are only coming to light since the Savile scandal erupted.

Entwistle stepped down on Nov. 11 after five weeks of controversy over a Newsnight report that falsely accused a former politician of sexual abuse, the implication of Savile in multiple allegations of molestation and the admission that Newsnight aborted a previous investigation that would have exposed Savile’s activities under a year ago.

Standing in front of the world’s media, outside Broadcast House in London, Enwistle said that handing in his resignation was the “honorable thing to do,” reported the Guardian.

British Culture Secretary Maria Miller agreed with the move: "It's a regrettable situation, but the right decision," Guardian.

Miller has called on the BBC to respond "decisively and quickly" to its investigation into Newsnight's decision to shelve a report on allegations that Savile, who died in October 2011, was guilty of sexual crimes.

Entwistle’s resignation came just 54 days after he took up the executive office. On Nov. 9, the BBC confirmed its investigative series Newsnight wrongly framed Lord McAlpine, a former senior conservative politician, in a story about pedophilia. Rumors circulated over the weekend that McAlpine is threatening to sue the BBC for tweeting about the case, reported the Financial Times. It was the second scandal to hit Newsnight in recent weeks.

On Oct. 3, rival British broadcaster ITV aired a documentary filled with over 300 testimonies from mostly young women, aged 8-23 years, who say they were molested by Savile, some in his BBC dressing room, during his 30 years at the corporation.

On Oct. 22, almost three weeks after the ITV documentary, the BBC aired its own program on current affairs show Panorama on why Newsnight dropped its investigation into sexual abuse claims against Savile and ran a special tribute program to the 84-year-old presenter instead. The BBC's original report on Savile was supposed to air on the investigative program Newsnight in November 2011, but it was pulled for editorial reasons.

The day after the Panorama program, Entwistle was the first witness at a government hearing into charges against Savile, the former host of legendary British pop shows "Top of the Pops" and "Jim’ll Fix It." He was grilled on a battery of inquiries, such as how could this have happened over three decades at the world’s leading broadcast without anyone taking action?

In front of a British lawmaking committee, Entwistle denied that the BBC helped cover up allegations that Savile, knighted for his charity work in 1990, preyed on women.

The National Health Service is facing its own independent inquiry after allegations of Savile sexually abusing patients at his charity hospitals Stoke Mandeville and Broadmoor and Leeds General Infirmary.

One widely reported claim comes from an 8-year-old – believed to be the youngest known victim so far – who said she was assaulted by Savile while recovering from surgery at Stoke Mandeville hospital. The inquiry, headed by female judge Dame Janet Smith, will also examine how Savile acquired so much access on the hospital grounds. He had his own private quarters at both hospitals.

Staff at Duncroft Approved School for Girls in Surrey - a government reform school for troubled young women in the 1970s - are facing a similar inquiry.

Despite Enwistle’s departure and a statement from the BBC saying the Newsnight expose was axed for editorial reasons, the corporation is still facing some increasingly uncomfortable questions, casting doubt over its reputation.

The scandal is rippling across the Atlantic to The New York Times, where former Director General of the BBC Mark Thompson has stepped in as CEO.

Thompson has repeatedly said he had no personal knowledge of the allegations, but The Sunday Times recently reported that his aides were told on two occasions, in May and September, of allegations concerning Savile’s abuse of minors on the BBC premises.

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