THE BBC’s failure to screen an exposé of Jimmy Savile’s sexual abuse of children was condemned in a damning report which sparked the departure of one of the corporation’s senior news executives.
Stephen Mitchell, the deputy director of news, announced he was quitting the BBC next year, on a deeply damaging day for the broadcaster which saw it severely criticised for shelving a Newsnight report that would have outed the late presenter as a paedophile.
A review, prepared by the former Sky News executive Nick Pollard, into the dropping of the Savile programme revealed that the Corporation was plunged into “chaos and confusion” following the contentious decision.
The Pollard Review said the decision to drop the report was “flawed”, adding the BBC’s management system “proved completely incapable of dealing” with the furore that resulted from the programme being axed.
The BBC had been accused of pulling the report in order to protect programmes which had been prepared in tribute to the late TV host and DJ, but Mr
Pollard concluded this was not the case.
The report stated: “The decision to drop the original investigation was flawed and the way it was taken was wrong, but I believe it was done in good faith. It was not done to protect the Savile tribute programmes or for any improper reason.”
But a deeply damaging day for the corporation was compounded by the publication of two other reports, which severely criticised the BBC over its handling of the Savile crisis and its fall out.
The publication of the Pollard Review coincided with another report, this time by the BBC Trust, which concluded that airing a Newsnight item that led to Tory peer Lord McAlpine being wrongly named as a paedophile had resulted largely from a failure to follow the BBC’s own editorial guidelines.
A bleak day for the BBC was completed with the publication of a third report which accused the corporation of a “cavalier” attitude towards licence-fee money following the £450,000 pay-off to ex-director general George Entwistle.
The report by the Public Accounts Committee was conducted following the departure of Mr Entwistle, who resigned after just 54 days in the job following criticism over his leadership during the crisis.
Despite the welter of criticism directed at senior management, Mr Mitchell was the only executive to leave the corporation.
Peter Rippon, the editor of Newsnight who pulled the film last year, is to be moved to another job within the BBC.
Adrian Van Klaveren, the head of Radio 5 Live who was acting head of news when Newsnight broadcast a film which led to Lord McAlpine being wrongly accused of child abuse, is also being moved sideways.
And Helen Boaden, the BBC’s head of news who was criticised for the “casual” way in which she mentioned the Newsnight investigation into Savile to George Entwistle, when the ex-director general was head of BBC Vision, remains in post.
Mr Pollard’s report said Ms Boaden’s attempt to alert Mr Entwistle to potential problems posed by the story during an industry lunch was “too casual” and she is criticised for not taking “greater responsibility” as the crisis grew.
Mr Entwistle was criticised for appearing to “have taken a long time to take any real control” of the problems at the BBC.
The review concluded that the BBC does not have to be taken down “brick by brick”, but said the director general’s role as editor-in-chief needs to be
examined. The review also said it “raises a question about the insularity of some people within the BBC”, described as being unaware of wider industry practices.
In response, the BBC has said Newsnight will get a new editor and deputy editor and added that incoming director general, Tony Hall, will be asked to reform its “management culture”.
The report paints an unflattering picture of relations between staff on Newsnight and in the wider BBC, saying the decision to cancel the story led to disagreements between Mr Rippon and his journalists and “relationships . . . began to break down”.
The review found there was no “undue pressure” on Mr Rippon from his bosses to drop the story, but said his decision to do so “was seriously flawed”. The report went on: “He made a bad mistake in not examining the evidence properly.” Mr Pollard said he could not understand why Mr Rippon did not watch an interview prepared by his reporters of one of Savile’s victims.
The review also described the background to Mr Rippon’s widely publicised blog post on the issue, which was later corrected after being found to be factually incorrect, as “chaotic”.
The evidence also revealed Mr Entwistle refused to speak to Newsnight reporter Meirion Jones, who was involved in the investigation into Savile, off-the-record because he “didn’t trust him to have an off-the-record conversation”.
The Pollard Review criticised Mr Mitchell for removing the Savile investigation from a list of the BBC’s potentially difficult programmes – known as the “managed risk programmes list”.
The report said Mr Mitchell “could offer no convincing reason” why he had done so but if it had stayed on the list “some of the issues which have followed might well have been avoided”.
BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten said the BBC accepted the review in its “entirety”.
After the publication of the report, Newsnight reporter Liz MacKean, who was also involved in the report which never made it to TV screens, said the decision to drop the story was “a breach of our duty to the women who trusted us to reveal that Jimmy Savile was a paedophile”.