A Newsnight investigation into claims of abuse by former BBC star Jimmy Savile should not have been dropped, the head of the one of the most powerful media organisations in the world admitted today.
George Entwistle, Director General of the BBC, also told the House of Commons Select Committee that the organisation was investigating up to 10 “serious allegations” involving past and present employees.
George Entwistle who often looked uncomfortable during a two-hour grilling from MPs, said: “There is no question that what Jimmy Savile did and the way the BBC behaved in the years – the culture and practices of the BBC seems to allow Jimmy Savile to do what he did – will raise questions of trust for us and reputation for us.
“This is a gravely serious matter and one cannot look back at it with anything other than horror, frankly, that… his activities went on as long as they did undetected.”
Savile, who was also a DJ and died last year aged 84, was described by police as a predatory sex offender. They believe he may have abused many people – including young girls – over a 40-year period and a criminal investigation is under way. On Monday, the BBC’s Panorama programme reported on the abuse allegations against Jimmy Savile, as well as the decision by Newsnight last December to drop its investigations into the claims.
Newsnight editor Peter Rippon had made the decision to drop the Newsnight investigation “on his own account”, the director general said.
“I came away from Panorama firmly of the view that that investigation, even if in the judgement of the editor it wasn’t ready for transmission at the point he was looking at it, should have been allowed to continue.
“What became clear to us after the blog was published was that what had happened on Newsnight, there was a significant, it seemed, difference of opinion between the people working on the investigation and the editor, Peter Rippon, who commissioned the investigation.”
An independent inquiry led by former Sky head of news Nick Pollard will examine why the Newsnight investigation was dropped. George Entwistle said he asked Newsnight editor Peter Rippon to step aside because of inaccuracies in his blog. George Entwistle was also asked about a brief conversation with BBC director of news Helen Boaden last December about the possibility of Newsnight running their report about Savile, while Mr Entwistle, as then BBC director of Vision, was planning Christmas tribute pieces to the presenter.
“The key message I took away was that it wasn’t yet clear to Helen whether it was going to stand up or not.
“I wouldn’t have had any qualms about making any changes we needed to make to the Christmas schedule.”
When asked if it had been a failure by him to ask further questions about the nature of the report, he said he didn’t want to show “undue interest”, adding: “I don’t believe I did fail… the system as a whole doesn’t seem to have got this right.”
Asked whether he now regretted running the tribute programmes for Savile, Mr Entwistle told MPs: “In the light of what’s happening, of course I do.”
He added that the Panorama programme pointed to the BBC’s health as a media organisation, rather than being a “symptom of chaos”, because it showed the organisation’s capacity to investigate itself.
He said no other news organisation in the world would do this.
As well as the Pollard review, former Court of Appeal judge Dame Janet Smith will lead a review into the culture and practices of the BBC during Savile’s time at the corporation and will also examine if the BBC’s child protection and whistleblowing policies are fit for purpose.