BBC Replaces Newsnight Editors Amid Savile Sex-Abuse Scandal

Wednesday, 19 Dec 2012 07:58 AM


The British Broadcasting Corp. will replace the senior editorial team of its current-affairs program “Newsnight” after errors were made in investigative reports into child sex abuse scandals.

The editors “fell short of what was expected” first in canceling a probe into abuse claims against the late Jimmy Savile, an entertainer who had worked at the BBC for decades, and again when it published an erroneous report implying that retired U.K. politician Alistair McAlpine had molested a child, the BBC executive board said today.

The shake up is the BBC’s reaction to a two-month probe, led by former British Sky Broadcasting Group Plc head of news Nick Pollard, that said problems with the BBC’s “rigid” management structure and sharing information lead to a breakdown in decision making. The report also said that no undue pressure was put on editors to drop the investigation into Savile, which would have aired last year.

“The most worrying aspect of the Jimmy Savile story for the BBC was not the decision to drop the story itself,” the report said. “It was the complete inability to deal with the events that followed.”

Pollard’s team interviewed journalists who worked on the program as well as former BBC director generals George Entwistle and Mark Thompson over the last two months. Entwistle resigned in November after less than two months on the job. The BBC is also investigating whether Savile had accomplices.

Risk List

Thompson, who still worked at the BBC when the first “Newsnight” segment in question was canceled, has said he had no involvement in the investigation into Savile or the decision to cut the program. He took over as chief executive officer of the New York Times Co. on Nov. 12.

Stephen Mitchell, the deputy head of news at the BBC, was the editor who decided to take the Savile story off of the broadcaster’s Managed Risk Programs List, a program that flags controversial stories to management, in November 2011. According to the probe, Mitchell offered “no convincing reason” why he’d done it, suggesting that the risk of reputational harm to the BBC was not a compelling reason to list a story on the list and that it was “too early” to put Savile on it.

Pollard rejected these explanations and said that other managers, including Chris Patten, chairman of the BBC Trust, and Helen Boaden, head of news, said reputational damage was a “very relevant” factor for a story’s inclusion on the list. Furthermore, other projects that were months away from publication, had been included in the list.

‘Dark Side’

The Pollard report said some people within the BBC had suspicions about Savile’s activities.

When Savile became ill in May 2010, BBC head of events Nick Vaughan-Barratt sent a message to Entwistle, who was then the BBC’s controller of knowledge commissioning, about an obituary.

“I’d feel v queasy about an obit. I saw the real truth!!!” Vaughan-Barratt said in an e-mail, according to the probe.

A day after Savile died, he sent another e-mail to commissioning editor Jan Younghusband that said “We decided that the dark side to Jim (I worked with him for 10 years) would make it impossible to make an honest film that could be shown close to death. But maybe one could be made for later.”

Entwistle said he didn’t read the e-mail about Savile’s “dark side,” according to the probe.

© Copyright 2015 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.

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