Spin alive and well; Savile case shows need for greater transparency

Spin alive and well; Savile case shows need for greater transparency


Proponents of the social web, myself included, like to think the networked society is a brave new world where transparency is the only option for organisational communication. It simply isn't the case.

How can you explain the Jimmy Savile scandal that has recently come to light? How was it possible for an individual to abuse so many young people yet maintain such a high media profile?

Why was Savile ignored? At best its collusion, or worse, wilful ignorance on the part of the media and the establishment.

The story of Savile's behaviour came out in the end, 12-months after his death, but only because critics of the BBC spotted a weakness in a Newsnight story and took the opportunity to attack the corporation.

It can't be much comfort for the 300 victims of Savile that Scotland Yard says have come forward.

Now we learn that rumours of Savile's behaviour have circulated newsrooms for decades.

These stories went unreported because Savile was considered untouchable. He was a popular BBC celebrity whose work and good deeds bought silence. This pact was so strong that Savile was able to continue abusing children unreported.

The publicists’ pact Presenting an individual or organisation in the best possible light is the stock trade of media publicists.

Stories are the currency of this market. The rules are straightforward. Publicists provide access to individuals or organisations in return for positive press coverage or silence in the case of a misdemeanour.

The media holds up the relationship for its part to maintain access and ensure a steady flow of stories with which to bait its audience.

Is Savile a one-off from a bygone era, or are similar crimes going unreported because to break the silence would be inconceivable. If it’s the latter the inevitable question is how many more Savile-like scandals involving individuals or organisations is the media keeping under wraps? Media transparency Lord Leveson is due to report this week. His inquiry into the UK's national news media was triggered by the phone hacking scandal at the former News of the World.

The narrative of Leveson's report is expected to be one of media intrusion in a drive for circulation figures. He is expected to call for greater controls on journalists.

What's really required is greater transparency between the media, government, corporations and publicists to ensure stories such as Savile aren’t covered-up.

But then that's not news.

Photo by NS Newsflash via Flickr with thanks.

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