The power of television to change society was put under the microscope, and chilling truths about the Savile inquiry were revealed at today’s flagship ITV session at Advertising Week Europe.
Mark Williams-Thomas, the journalist behind the ITV Exposure programme which revealed the shocking and unprecedented extent of Jimmy Savile’s crimes, was joined on stage at BAFTA by Alex Gardiner, the director of the Shiver production company, and ITN broadcaster Natasha Kaplinsky.
Mark conceded that the documentary would probably never have been broadcast had Savile still been alive – and suggested there were a number of other figures who he was investigating.
“He was too powerful,” said Mark. “There are stories out there which have been suppressed by the media because the individuals or organisations are too powerful and we have to challenge that.
“I think the industry needs to challenge itself more. The reason this programme happened was because of the quality of being able to go out and find the evidence and being given the time to do that. The risk we took was massive. If we had got that wrong, we’d never have worked in TV again.”
He revealed: “We know far more than will ever be out there in the public domain.
“We’ve got information that no-one will investigate. We need to put it out there – until we do that, we’re just going to allow people to elevate themselves into further positions of authority.
“No-one is being held to account. Who is being held to account for Savile’s behaviour? There are people who either haven’t been truthful or who have withheld information.”
However, it was clear that the documentary did have a huge effect on society and culture.
Natasha said: “The documentary created an explosion of activity and outrage upon its broadcast. The ripples are still being felt today. I know of no other documentary that has had such a powerful role in influencing society, politics and culture. The programme was dynamite.”
Alex said the team had been unsure of the impact the programme would have until it was broadcast. “We suspected it would create waves but in the run up a lot of people thought it would have the opposite impact,” he said. “If you believed the funeral footage, the nation adored him. There was a feeling there could be a real backlash against us for doing this.”
But the positive ramifications have been encouraging. Alex said: “One of the great things is the way the CPS responded and issued new guidelines to prosecutors on how to treat victims.”
Mark spoke about how he had been able to pass on substantial amounts of information to the police from people who had contacted him after the programme, which was being investigated. The NSPCC had said that a thousand children were saved as a direct result of the documentary.
Alex said: “The big hope we have is that it’s changed things culturally. I hope the long term impact of the programme is that adults will think ‘I should listen’.”
The two men talked about how they had developed the programme, from first hearing about the Newsnight plans to run something, to hearing that the story had been dropped, to beginning their own investigations and gathering evidence.
Mark explained how he gathered the evidence as though he would be presenting it in court, but also in a way that would reassure Savile’s victims.
“Every single person who appears in any of my programmes, I care for,” he said. “It’s about time, it’s about getting to know them. Their life has changed as a result of the programme - it’s changed because they’ve been listened to.”
He spoke about interviewing women who had been abused on Top of the Pops and realising the extent of the horror. “I realised for the first time how dangerous Savile was and how much of a predator he was,” he said.
But once the evidence had been tested and evaluated, it was set out before the British public to make their own judgement.
“The public were the jury,” said Mark. “We presented them with the evidence and the public could decide.”
That’s the power of documentary, he said. “If it’s got right, it will have a bigger impact than anything else on television.”