Review of the media in 2012: Secrets from beyond the grave

'The public now finds itself feeling gullible and betrayed'

Click to follow
The Independent Online

This has been the year in which the British media has shone a spotlight on itself as never before, exposing sinister industry secrets that had remained hidden for years.

The public, which no doubt assumed itself unshockable in this media-savvy age, now finds itself feeling gullible and betrayed. No part of the media has emerged from this year's scrutiny without its reputation being further diminished. The BBC has lost a Director General, who resigned after the shortest tenure in the organisation's history. The big beasts of the press have been hauled before a judicial inquiry to be grilled on questionable practices.

The year's biggest sensation was the revelation of the activities of Jimmy Savile. The story has besmirched the memory of an era in television and radio that was regarded by many as a time of innocence. Operation Yewtree, the resulting police investigation, has increased fears that the Jim'll Fix It host's sexually exploitative behaviour was part of a wider industry culture.

The period in which Savile was running amok, orchestrating child sex abuse in his BBC dressing room while executives gave him a free rein, was supposedly the 'Golden Age' of British broadcasting. This was a time, uncomplicated by the worldwide web, when the stars of the two big channels were guaranteed a mass audience and the fame that came with it. They did not need Twitter to amplify their public profile.

In defence of television, it was an ITV documentary, Exposure, which investigated Savile's murky past and opened the floodgates for hundreds of alleged victims to come forward.

But the BBC's own attempts to hold itself to account were mostly shambolic. Newsnight's failure to show its own investigation into Savile became a central feature of the scandal and, although BBC1's Panorama regained some pride with a critical documentary, the BBC2 show was out of control. A fresh piece on child abuse in care homes, designed to salvage Newsnight's reputation, was fatally compromised by Twitter speculation on the identity of the supposed perpetrator.

The online smearing of the former Tory party treasurer sealed the fate of BBC Director General George Entwistle, who had been trying to ride out the Savile storm. His arrival in post, only 54 days earlier, had been greeted with enthusiasm.

For Fleet Street, this was the year of reckoning for the tabloid misdemeanours exposed in 2011. After the public revulsion over the hacking of Milly Dowler's phone, the press has effectively had to submit to being put on trial. The Leveson inquiry has meant that powerful figures such as Paul Dacre, editor of the Daily Mail, Dominic Mohan, editor of the Sun and Richard Desmond, publisher of the Daily Express and the Daily Star, have faced questioning in front of the television cameras, a medium they prefer to avoid.

As the judge's inquisitors taunted them over their papers' involvement in acquiring personal data and harassing celebrities, Scotland Yard was developing its own narrative on press skulduggery. Operation Elveden led to a wave of arrests from the Sun newsroom over alleged payments to public officials. Other News International journalists have been arrested this year as part of the parallel Operation Tuleta, which is focused on computer hacking.

At the end of November, Leveson finally published his report, and called for the use of statutory underpinning to support a new independent press regulator. Some editors and newspaper barons had snarled before the judge. Suddenly they were obliged to unite with their rivals and accept the great bulk of Leveson's proposals – or face the imposition of a press law that would break 300 years of British tradition.

And neither does radio emerge unscathed. Already damaged by the scandal involving Radio 1 stalwart Savile and some subsequent arrests, the sector suffered a fresh blow this month when the heartbreaking death of nurse Jacintha Saldanha provided a cold reminder of the consequences of the medium's culture of prank phone calls. We enter 2013 with news information more plentiful than ever. But, after 2012, we have a major dilemma: just who can we trust?

@rupertmurdoch Seems impossible to have civilised debate on twitter. Ignorant, vicious abuse lowers whole society, maybe shows real social decay

Rupert Murdoch, chairman of News Corporation

@jonsnowC4 [to Rupert Murdoch] I find that in life one reaps what one sows…

Jon Snow, journalist

@Domponsford Like the beef industry after BSE – British journalism has to show it has taken the action needed to restore confidence

Dominic Ponsford, editor of the Press Gazette

@BBCPeterHunt Lord Justice Leveson on Heat: "it's a very different journal to my normal". #Leveson #hacking

Peter Hunt, BBC Royal Correspondent

@fieldproducer News has changed and the entire process of how a news organisation operates is now visible to viewers through social media

Neal Mann, journalist at Sky News

@rupertmurdoch I have nothing to do with Sky News

Rupert Murdoch

@campbellclaret Encouraged by Jeremy Hunt re press. New tough regulator set up by Parliament then independent of media- politics. Ownership also issue tho

Alastair Campbell, former Downing Street Director of Communications

@piersmorgan Was Abu Qatada released from jail to make room for all the journalists being arrested? What the hell is happening in Britain? Ridiculous

Piers Morgan, journalist

@alextomo K Mackenzie's response to questions about Hillsborough was to hit me repeatedly with his car door

Alex Thomson, Channel 4 News reporter