Liz MacKean is a British television reporter and presenter, announced in November 2015 as Journalist of the Decade by Stonewall. She worked on the BBC's Newsnight programme and was the reporter on an expose of Sir Jimmy Savile as a paedophile which was controversially cancelled by the BBC in December, 2011. The decision to axe the Newsnight investigation became the subject of the Pollard Inquiry. She and colleague Meirion Jones later won a London Press Club Scoop of the Year award for their work on the story. She also won the 2010 Daniel Pearl Award for her investigation of the Trafigura toxic dumping scandal.
In 2014, she reported on Russian vigilante gangs who entrap and attack gay men.. "Hunted", made with Blakeway Productions, won multiple awards and led to a follow-up "Hunted: Gay and Afraid" in which MacKean challenged American evangelical groups who support anti-gay legislation around the world.
MacKean was educated at Gordonstoun School, a boarding independent school near the village of Duffus, north west of the former cathedral city of Elgin in Moray in the north east of Scotland, where she played opposite Prince Edward in a production of Black Comedy, followed by the University of Manchester.
BBC and Newsnight
In 2000, MacKean joined the BBC Newsnight programme and became a specialist on Northern Ireland, covering the unfolding peace and political process, interviewing leading politicians and paramilitary figures. In 2009, she went to Cote d'Ivoire for the programme, to report on the toxic dumping scandal involving the independent oil company Trafigura. In 2010 MacKean and five others shared the Daniel Pearl Award for Outstanding International Investigative Reporting for their story "Trafigura’s Toxic Waste Dump", which "exposed how a powerful offshore oil trader tried to cover up the poisoning of 30,000 West Africans".
In a long running series for Newsnight, MacKean highlighted the plight of teenagers leaving the care system leading to a government promise of action in 2010.
Jimmy Savile and Newsnight
Newsnight launched an investigation into Jimmy Savile's paedophile activities immediately after his death on 29 October 2011. MacKean was the reporter and Meirion Jones was the producer; MacKean was very unhappy when the report was not transmitted before Christmas 2011 and tributes to Savile were broadcast on the BBC. She alleged that her editor Peter Rippon tried to "kill" the Savile story "by making impossible editorial demands". She told a Panorama programme in October 2012: "All I can say is that it was an abrupt change in tone from, you know, one day 'excellent, let's prepare to get this thing on air' to 'hold on'." MacKean also claimed in an email to a friend that Peter Rippon said he was under pressure from his bosses: "PR [Peter Rippon] says if the bosses aren't happy ... [he] can't go to the wall on this one."
The decision to cancel the Newsnight investigation became the subject of the Pollard Inquiry, named after its head, the former Sky News executive Nick Pollard. On 19 December 2012, Pollard reported that the “Newsnight investigators were right. They found clear and compelling evidence that Jimmy Savile was a paedophile. The decision by their editor to drop the original investigation was clearly flawed and the way it was taken was wrong.” He said Newsnight could have broken the story a year before ITV's Exposure. In a public statement afterwards MacKean described the failure to run the story as a "breach in our duty to the women who trusted us to reveal that Jimmy Savile was a paedophile." However, the BBC has asserted that Panorama found no evidence to suggest that Rippon was pressured from above to drop the report ahead of the Christmas tribute to Savile.
Edinburgh Television Festival 2013
In August 2013 MacKean told a session of the Edinburgh Television Festival that the row about excessive severance payments to senior BBC officials went to the heart of problems at the BBC where an "officer class" had been created which was treating the BBC as a "get-rich quick scheme" for themselves and their colleagues. Later at the Festival the Director General of the BBC, Tony Hall picked up MacKean remarks and said "I think someone used the phrase 'officer class’ and I think that’s right. I understand the resentment and anger that is caused". Hall said he would "heal the appalling divide" between staff and senior managers.
It was announced in May 2013 that MacKean had been hired for a "high-level investigation" for the Dispatches programme on Channel 4. MacKean's first broadcast investigation was "The Paedophile MP. How Cyril Smith Got Away With It" concerning the activities of the Liberal Democrat politician Cyril Smith. The programme was transmitted on 12 September. MacKean has made a series of programmes for Dispatches on changes to Britain's welfare system, as well as the award-winning "Hunted" and its follow-up "Hunted: Gay and Afraid".
She lives with her partner and two children.
- "Spiked Newsnight Savile story is joint winner of London Press Club scoop prize – Press Gazette".
- "Gay and Russian: ‘It’s hunting season, we are the hunted’".
- "Stonewall celebrates a decade of achievements at final awards". 6 November 2015.
- Kay, Richard (20 April 2014). "Two Jags won't leap into Lords". Daily Mail. London.
- "Liz MacKean". BBC News. 17 November 2005.
- "Liz MacKean".
- BBC. "BBC - Hereford and Worcester - BBC Hereford and Worcester - BBC H&W 20th birthday".
- "The Daniel Pearl Foundation Newsletter, June 2010". Danielpearl.org. Retrieved 2012-11-23.
- "The challenge facing young care leavers". BBC. 18 March 2010.
- "Peter Rippon 'tried to kill Jimmy Savile story'". PressGazette. 2012-11-16. Retrieved 2012-11-23.
- Dan Sabbagh (21 October 2012). "Jimmy Savile row: Newsnight emails spark 'crisis' at BBC | Media". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2012-11-23.
- Sabbagh & Plunkett (19 December 2012). "Pollard inquiry: BBC 'incapable' of dealing with Jimmy Savile affair". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 27 January 2013.
- "Jimmy Savile: BBC Newsnight editor steps aside over claims", BBC News, 22 October 2012, accessed: 23 October 2012
- "BBC Savile scoop journalist Liz MacKean says corporation has become ‘get rich quick scheme’ for ‘officer class’ – Press Gazette".
- Williams, Christopher (22 August 2013). "BBC officer class enrages people, chief admits". The Daily Telegraph. London.
- Plunkett, John (29 May 2013). "Ex-Newsnight reporter Liz Mackean to work on Channel 4 Dispatches film". The Guardian. London.
- "Dispatches reveals How Cyril Smith Abuse Went Unpunished", Channel 4, 12 September 2013
- Mark Lawson "Channel 4's Dispatches on Cyril Smith is uncomfortable but powerful viewing", theguardian.com (blog), 12 September 2013