New evidence suggests BBC officials knew Savile’s “darker side”

by WAN-IFRA Staff | February 25, 2013

The BBC recently published 3,000 pages of evidence from an independent investigation of the decision to halt Newsnight’s Jimmy Savile investigation. The evidence, published Friday, includes transcripts of interviews with 19 BBC staffers and thousands of pertinent emails suggests that BBC executives were aware of significant flaws in Savile’s character when they ran a tribute of the deceased BBC broadcaster for Christmas 2011.

In December the independent inquiry, led by former Head of Sky News Nick Pollard, concluded that the BBC’s decision to axe Newsnight’s Savile investigation was “seriously flawed,” but that it was not made for any inappropriate reason.

However, some argue that former BBC Editor Peter Rippon may have been pressured to discard the investigation as part of a company cover up. In fact, by the end of November 2011, a month before the tribute was scheduled to air, the investigation had determined incidents of Savile’s abuse on BBC premises. Merion Jones, one of the reporters responsible for the investigation, said that Rippon was “leaned on from above” in making his decision: Rippon said he chose to kill the investigation when he found out that the Crown Prosecution Service had dropped their case against Savile because of lack of evidence, but Jones said Rippon never examined Newsnight’s thorough collection of evidence. Instead of asking the team to gather more information, he told them to stop the investigation altogether.

Savile’s character flaws seem to have been no secret. Former BBC reporter Bob Langley twice saw young girls leaving Savile’s car, and Newsnight’s Jeremy Paxman said that Savile’s affinity for children was “common gossip” among staff. Commissioning Editor of BBC Music and Events Jan Younghusband was reportedly advised against pursuing an obituary for Savile “because of the darker side of the story.” Additionally, Nick Vaughan-Barratt,  former BBC head of events, said that he too was “queasy” about making an obituary film because he had known Savile personally.

However, because many in BBC’s Vision division were not aware of Savile’s shady background, it seems BBC officials felt safe in airing the tributes. Jones countered: “It doesn’t matter which individuals knew that, it was important for the BBC to find a way of stopping [the tributes from airing].”

In addition, the BBC censored online comments on Savile’s tribute page, including a comment that read, “One of my best friends in 1972 was molested by this creep Savile. He was never the same again. Killed himself in 1985. How’s About That Then?” George Entwistle, former BBC director general, said website moderation is outsourced to a third-party.

Though the evidence provided much information, one question remains, as raised by Paxman in the report: “What was the BBC doing promoting this absurd figure, this absurd and malign figure?”

 This report was compiled from summaries of the evidence by The BBCThe Guardian and Press Gazette.

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