I watched Lord Patten undergoing abrasive questioning at the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee hearing, over the decisions made by the BBC. The vexed problems of how much did he know, and what should he or could he have done ? The subject matter was of course, the decisions made about the timing of revelations in the wake of the detritus and debris left behind after the allegations of pedophilia that arose after Jimmy Saville’s death.
I watched him being hounded. And I paid attention to his response.
I noted his quiet dignity and unquestionable integrity, authority and humour. It was an object lesson in keeping calm when you are being fired on by all sides. He was a living demonstration of Kipling’s words:
“If you can keep your head while all about you
Are losing theirs, and blaming it on you”……
Such immaculate behaviour can teach many, should they wish to learn. Our behaviour, after all, is one of the few things over which we have full control. Not long ago, I was at a lecture which Lord Patten delivered with a beautiful balance of surety, confidence and humility. I am unaware of having felt particularly strongly about him before I heard him speak, but he conveyed his essence powerfully to the audience. He would never be just a name again. I paraphrase his words that night, when he was asked about the various negative press articles, affecting so many Members of Parliament. He stated wistfully:
“There seems to be a laddishness that has crept into politics….. behavior that would not have been countenanced at one time”
Now, apparently, he must endure this public questioning of his behaviour, habits, and decisions, because the BBC had decided to take on the very thorny problem of pedophilia. The difficulty with such a decision is that such revelations will cause chaos to all affected. Pedophiles do not necessarily fit the public perception: they are infrequently sad and lonely men. They exist across the social spectrum: there are the rich and powerful, with many friends being able to exert influence. There is the executive, who has fought hard to build up his reputation: the bank manager who would be ruined, if such things came out. The victims are usually at the opposite end of the social spectrum: people who find it difficult to be either heard, or believed. pedophilia cannot stand the oxygen of publicity – it thrives on secrets.
To illustrate how deep rooted this is, I offer you a true account.
A friend of mine was working on a voluntary basis with a boy from a children’s home in the 1970’s. This boy – let’s call him David – complained that he was being sexually molested by a member of staff in the home. After much questioning, David’s answers eventually convinced my friend that he was telling the truth. Therefore, she decided to report it to the Head of Home. To her surprise and amazement, she was laughed at. This Senior Social Worker told her that children’s homes attracted this kind of individual. It was unfortunate, but there was nothing to be done about it. If such deeds were brought to light, you would just create a great deal of trouble. It was far better to let sleeping dogs lie.
So she went her GP, and shared her information with him, and asked for his advice. Again, she was given encouragement along the lines of “let’s do nothing” . Her G.P. had heard more funny stories than she had enjoyed hot breakfasts. These things happened . They were part of life. All problems could not be solved. Leave it alone.
Astonished at this lack of action, she went to the Church and spoke to her minister. She explained the two reactions she had received. To strengthen her argument, she now had evidence. This Church interview was slightly more reassuring. The Minister was shocked at the reaction of the two professionals. However, given that they held this stance, what could be done? If they were unwilling to act, what could the Church do? It is better not to stick one’s neck out.
And so David continued on his journey, without one adult lifting a finger to help him. NHS, Social Work and Church were not interested in causing a scandal. Today, we would cry “Shame!” and hold up our hands in horror.
From my position of knowledge, I watched with interest as the BBC tried to tell the story. After death, when the individual cannot fight to retain their reputation, it is possible. But it is difficult in the extreme to find proof, facts and corroboration against those who are still living. And yet consider: the victim wants to be believed, and the story to be told. The bystander would like the truth to be told, as would Society as a whole. Ranked against us, is the strength of the perpetrators and their collaborators which will always forbid disclosure. It cannot happen.
The BBC, like my friend from years ago, discovered that revelation was not going to be viable. It would be too uncomfortable for too many, who have spent a lifetime being thought of as pillars of the Community. These people would fight for their reputation: lawsuits for libel and slander, defamation of character would bog the BBC down for years.
So, as we cast around blindly, and blame anybody and everybody at the BBC, the answer lies elsewhere.
I showed the words that I have written here to a friend of mine, who said:
” I don’t know why you bother. I’m not interested.”
And with that statement, he proved my point.
He highlighted, through his disinterest, the missing ingredient. We have failed to engage the genuine interest and care of the bystander.
“Perpetrators, collaborators, bystanders, victims: we can be clear about three of these categories. The bystander, however, is the fulcrum. If there are enough notable exceptions, then protest reaches a critical mass. We do not usually think of history as being shaped by silence, but, as English philosopher Edmund Burke said, ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph [of evil] is for good men to do nothing.’[i] (Emphasis is mine)
The problem is not with George Entwistle or Lord Patten, whom I consider to be honorable men, from what I have read. Neither attempted to stop the full story coming out, although it could have been handled better. But you don’t know that until you are involved. Then those who stand idly by are exposed, yet blaming everyone but themselves.
If we are not a perpetrator, collaborator or victim, we are the bystanders. We bystanders have not achieved our critical mass.
Doing nothing is our failure – and ours alone.
Linda Jane McLean
[i] Martin Porter, 2002, “A study of web quotation”