Young children are unlikely to recognise senior politicians. When young children are living in institutionalised “care” and suffering traumatic physical, sexual and emotional abuse they are likely to have only a very fuzzy recollection of places to which they were taken or the identities of people who were hurting them there. Thirty years on recall will be even more difficult. On top of which, people who have suffered institutionalised abuse are likely to be emotionally shaky and easily influenced.
Those are my words but I believe them to be a very fair summary of the argument which last night’s Panorama on the “VIP Paedophile Ring” was attempting to make. It was very bad journalism, with little cogent argument, merely an attempt to build up a picture that those alleging abuse are flakes. One example was the treatment of retired social worker Chris Fay who is evidently elderly and struggling in a number of ways. The camera showed his tawdry flat and furnishings and zoomed in to a tight close up shot of an apparently filthy container in which tea-bags were stored. It was a classic propaganda technique to undermine the image of a man and what he was going to say. Just an old duffer who can’t even clean his flat.
The programme built up to a climax of bad journalism with an interview of a very obviously damaged abuse victim, his voice replaced by an actor. The victim was pushed by very leading questions to say that he may have been led falsely to identify Leon Brittan. The fact the victim had apparently correctly described the birthmarks on Brittan’s face, which had led to the production of the photo he identified, was skated over. What the journalist did certainly prove is that a vulnerable victim can be led to say anything: the victim was doing it before our eyes, pushed by the BBC. But the police are expert in questioning so as not to lead, and were not pushing an agenda.
Panorama however was pushing a very obvious agenda indeed.
What was most notable was what was missing from the programme. Not all victims are such poor witnesses. There are also some other very compelling witnesses – policemen who were told to drop investigations because of VIP involvement. Panorama did not interview any of those. Nor did they interview Tom Watson, despite continually referring to his “political interference” which they implied was the only cause of the accusations. There was also a peculiar absence of Greville Janner from the story.
Nothing can excuse this amazingly biased programme. But the BBC do have a point. Those accused of sexual abuse are entitled to the presumption of innocence, and those making the accusations should not be exempt from scrutiny of the credibility of their allegations.
Except that the BBC adopts the precisely opposite principle in the case of Julian Assange. The BBC believes it would be absolutely wrong, disrespectful of the “victims” and potentially prejudicial to a trial for there to be any questioning or scrutiny of the allegations against Assange. They take an absolutely opposite view of how to treat Assange and how to treat establishment VIPs.
Indeed, the BBC has decided that, given the accusations against Assange are so risible, it would be wrong for any detail at all of the accusations to be given out. Therefore the BBC has never reported the fact that the allegation they describe as “rape” is that, during the act of consensual sex, Assange allegedly tore a condom with his fingers whilst wearing it (of which I doubt the physical possibility). The second sexual molestation accusation is that again consensual sex took place, but after they fell asleep in each others arms, Assange awoke and initiated a repeat of the sex act without requesting permission again.
Despite the fact that Anna Ardin and Sofia Wilen have given press conferences in Sweden promoting their allegations, the BBC has made no attempt to interview them. The BBC has not reported that, the day after the condom splitting “rape”, Anna Ardin hosted a crayfish party for Assange and tweeted her friends from it that she was with the coolest man in the world. The BBC has not reported that Anna Ardin had invited Assange to share her flat and her bed. The BBC has not reported that Anna Ardin produced a torn condom to police but police found it had no trace of Assange’s DNA – a physical impossibility if he used it. The BBC has not reported that Anna Ardin and Sofia Wilen only made accusations after the two of them got together and cooked up the story. The BBC has not reported that Stockholm’s chief prosecutor dismissed it as no case to answer, and that Ardin then took it, as Swedish law allows, to another prosecutor, Marianne Ny who has a campaigning feminist agenda.
The BBC has not reported any of that because it would be quite wrong to doubt the word of victims of sexual abuse. It would be wrong to put them under pressure, or look sceptically at the evidence for their stories, both direct and circumstantial. It would be quite wrong to prejudice possible legal proceedings.
It would be quite wrong if the accusations are against Julian Assange. But it would be absolutely right if the accusations are against Westminster VIPs.
I do so much look forward to the Panorama on the Assange sexual abuse allegations. When do you think we will see it?