Crisis at BBC as Newsnight editor steps aside over new Savile revelations

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  By G.A.Ponsonby
 
Pressure on BBC bosses has intensified after it emerged the editor of the shelved Newsnight programme into Jimmy Savile had given “incomplete and inaccurate” reasons for the programme being pulled.
 
The broadcaster is facing increased calls to explain why a Newsnight investigation into claims Savile had been sexually abusing children for years, at times on BBC premises, was not broadcast as planned.

It has now emerged that the reasons originally given for the programme not being shown were untrue.  Peter Rippon, on whose blog the reasons were published, announced that he is to step down from his Newsnight editorial post.

The scandal has engulfed the BBC after revelations of Savile’s sexual behaviour were exposed by an ITV documentary.  Claims that the former BBC presenter, who fronted the popular Jim’ll Fix It TV show in the 70s and 80s, abused youngsters on BBC premises have shocked the nation.

Former BBC employees have told of witnessing Savile abusing children, whilst others have admitted that rumours of the stars behaviour circulated inside the BBC for decades with no action ever taken to investigate the claims.  The BBC has now admitted that the reasons published on Mr Rippon’s blog for the cancellation of the Newsnight programme were false in several key areas.

Claims that Newsnight had no evidence against the BBC were untrue.  In fact Newsnight reporters had been told Savile abused girls on BBC premises.

The claim that the victims interviewed by Newsnight had spoken to police were also untrue.  Another, that no other abusers were named by the women was also false – one of them had made allegations that Gary Glitter had also had sex in a BBC dressing room.

Mr Rippon also wrongly said Newsnight had no evidence that staff at the Duncroft approved school knew about Savile’s child abuse.

It has also emerged that there was a row between the reporters who worked on the programme and the Newsnight editor over the decision to cancel the show.

Newsnight reporter Liz MacKean claimed that she has not been happy with public statements issued by her BBC bosses since the scandal emerged and has called them “misleading”.  Ms MacKean claimed that “an abrupt change of tone” preceded the decision to pull the programme.

“From one day ‘excellent, let’s prepare to get this thing on air’ to ‘hold on’”, she said.  Ms MacKean’s colleague on the programme, Meireon Jones, claims he and Ms Mackean argued over a lengthy period with the programme’s editor but were simply told to “stop working on the story”.

The decision by Mr Rippon to step down comes on the eve of an appearance before a Commons Committee by new BBC Director General George Entwhistle.  Mr Entwhistle had allowed two tribute programmes to Savile to be broadcast by the BBC after the Newsnight programme had been dropped.

Speaking ahead of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee meeting tomorrow, its chairman John Whittingdale said the BBC was now in crisis.

“It does go to the heart of the question of the BBC’s own integrity and trust in the BBC,” he said.

“This is why it’s so intensely damaging to the BBC and why it is very important it is dealt with very quickly.

“The BBC have done the right things, although belatedly; it took a long time to wake up to how serious this matter is.”

It also emerged that Mr Entwhistle was made aware of serious allegations against Savile before the tribute programmes aired, but apparently did nothing.  The allegations were contained in a special edition of Panorama, which also contained sensational claims that a paedophile ring operated within the BBC.

Mr Whittingdale added: “As we understand it from Panorama, Helen Boaden did mention this to George Entwistle in a conversation said to last less than ten seconds.

“That in itself raises questions.

“If you were the Director of Vision and you were told, at a time when you were commissioning programmes paying tribute to Jimmy Savile, that Newsnight might be about to reveal a bombshell, you wouldn’t just have a ten second conversation.

“You would say tell me more: ‘I’m about to go public putting out this programmes making out that Jimmy Savile was this saint’.

“And yet it appears from this that he didn’t even ask the question about what the Newsnight investigation was about.”

Senior BBC reporters are now claiming that the BBC’s reputation has been badly damaged by the issue.   Respected reporter John Simpson described the scandal as “the worst crisis that I can remember in my nearly 50 years at the BBC”.