REWARDING DENIAL



By TAN Kee Wee
(MediaCorp 938LIVE’s Money Talks, Friday, 19 October 2012, 7.55 am, and Saturday, 20 October 8.35 am)

For a long time, Sir Jimmy Savile, who passed away a year ago, was a big name in British society. He was a TV and radio star, and well known as a funny and popular do-gooder.

Then early this month, a British TV documentary exposed his sexual abuse of underage girls. A few victims even testified in the documentary. It stunned the British public. Worse, after the broadcast, more victims came forward.

Apparently, Saville wasn’t just abusing underage girls in his dressing room. He also abused them in hospitals, children’s homes and schools.

The worst revelation was that many of Savile’s colleagues knew about it or heard rumours about it. But no one did anything about it. The question is “why?”

The simple explanation is that Savile’s fame offered him protection. He dazzled the British public with his talent and good deeds so much so that they could not see his dark side.

The real explanation is that Saville’s work benefited many parties. His TV and radio shows were important to his employer. His fund-raising activities were important to the charities where the underage girls were abused.

So the real explanation is that no one wants to complain about the person who brings home the bacon.

Unfortunately, this culture of denial happens elsewhere too. Investment banking also had its share. A few years ago, the names of the big credit ratings agencies were tarnished for not telling us investors that the mortgages backing the investment products were bad.

Why would they when they made money giving high ratings to the mortgage-backed securities? And why would anyone else in the industry tell the truth?

It does not mean that all bankers are bad. It is just that the culture encouraged denial. Like the media industry, the investment industry can be very rewarding. Competition for jobs is fierce. Reputation is as important as your job skills.

So not many dare to raise doubts about the investment products sold. Because doing that would label them as troublemakers. And that would be career suicide.

In an industry with no job security, where even top management turns a blind eye, the conscientious players are resigned to putting up and shutting up.

In the end, investors lost money. In Jimmy Savile’s case, the girls suffered. It is not easy to come up with safeguards to protect future victims. This is simply because the benefactors and the victims are so many steps apart.

The least we can do is to be very careful about rewarding those individuals and firms that promote the culture of denial.

When the British Queen awarded Jimmy Savile his knighthood in 1990, there was a track record to support it. This cannot be said of last week’s Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union or EU.

Many people, especially Greeks and Spaniards, think that the EU has done nothing to bring about peace, only rioting and suffering. A more worthy recipient is the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

The decision to award the Noble Peace Prize falls on a committee of Norwegians. The irony is that Norway is not in the EU. In 1994, the Norwegians voted to stay out of the EU because they thought it was a bad idea. By giving this Nobel Peace Prize, they think the EU is a good idea as long as they are not in it.

Imagine the uproar in Britain were the Queen to give Jimmy Savile his knighthood today, all because none of the Royal princesses have been abused.