BBC director general tells MPs Newsnight editor axed Savile inquiry without any undue influence
THE EDITOR of Newsnight, Peter Rippon, was named as the man solely responsible for pulling an investigation into the paedophile activities of the late Jimmy Savile, as the head of the BBC tried to clear the corporation’s name yesterday.
• BBC boss in front of Culture, Media and Sport Committee
• Panorama reveals Newsnight investigation had enough evidence
• Between 5 and 10 ‘serious allegations’ from Jimmy Savile period
In evidence to the Commons culture committee, the director general of the BBC, George
Entwistle, insisted that there was no undue pressure brought on Mr Rippon to pull the item in November last year because of plans to run tributes to Savile.
As head of light entertainment at the time, Mr Entwistle was responsible for airing the tributes to Savile.
However, the director general told MPs that it would not have been difficult to “reform the Christmas schedule in the light of a Newsnight review”.
Mr Entwistle faced wider questions on whether the BBC covered up Savile’s activities over the years and he was grilled on the decision to end a Newsnight investigation late last year, with the evidence subsequently being aired in an expose by ITV.
He expressed surprise that Mr Rippon had ended the investigation altogether and not just pulled the item due to be aired on 7 November.
Following a Panorama investigation on Monday night into the Newsnight decision, and with Mr Rippon on gardening leave while an investigation takes place into his decision, Mr Entwistle yesterday moved to blame the Newsnight editor for the decision.
He told MPs: “There’s no question that what Jimmy Savile did and the way the BBC behaved – the culture and practices of the BBC seemed to allow Jimmy Savile to do what he did – will raise questions of trust for us and reputation for us. There’s no question about that.
“It is a gravely serious matter, and one cannot look back at it with anything but horror that his activities went on as long as they did undetected.
“Of course, that is a matter of grave regret to me.”
Mr Entwistle said the inquiry by Nick Pollard, former head of Sky News, into why the Newsnight investigation into Savile was dropped is expected to report back “in weeks”.
He admitted Mr Rippon’s blog account of the decision to pull the Newsnight item which had to be corrected was “a matter of regret and embarrassment”.
The director general told MPs he believed the Newsnight investigation into Savile should have continued and said there had been a “breakdown of communication” between Newsnight reporters and the editor and he did not feel “confident” that he could get an explanation for what happened from within the BBC.
Conservative MP Therese Coffey branded “chilling” an e-mail sent by Mr Rippon last November that said “our sources so far are just the women” and questioned whether the culture had really changed at the BBC.
“That phrase, on the face of it, isn’t in the least defensible, of course,” Mr Entwistle said. “I do believe the culture has changed since the seventies and eighties but I’m not convinced it has changed as much as it should have.”
Mr Entwistle told the committee he had not spoken to any of those involved in preparing the Newsnight film.
He said he felt it was better to operate through the “chain of command”, so he could remain an impartial judge of any disciplinary case, and had left it to head of news Helen Boaden and deputy director of news Stephen Mitchell to deal directly with the programme.
Mr Entwistle said Ms Boaden had spoken to the Newsnight team only briefly during the
His evidence came as a Newsnight reporter alleged that her editor tried to “kill” the Savile story by making “impossible editorial demands” and saying the women who spoke out about the TV star were not too young at the time of the incidents.
Channel 4 News said it had seen an e-mail sent last December by Newsnight reporter Liz MacKean in which she discusses Mr Rippon’s response to her
Mr Rippon stepped aside from his job on Monday after the BBC said his explanation of why Newsnight dropped its Savile investigation was “inaccurate or incomplete”.
In the e-mail, Ms MacKean wrote: “Having commissioned the story, Peter Rippon keeps saying he’s lukewarm about it and is trying to kill it by making impossible editorial demands.”
She reportedly claimed: “When we rebut his points, he resorts to saying, well, it was 40 years ago … the girls were teenagers, not too young … they weren’t the worst kind of sexual offences etc.”
As it happened: The Scotsman’s David Maddox reported from the hearing...
12.30pm: The director-general said that the editor of Newsnight was solely to blame “to the best of my knowledge” for the Newsnight investigation to be pulled. Mr Entwistle said: “The decision was made by Peter Rippon on his own account and what was going on in his mind is something we have got to rely on the Pollard review to get to the bottom of.”
He added that the “BBC would not have had any difficulty whatsoever in reforming a Christmas schedule in the light of a Newsnight investigation.”
12.25pm: Mr Entwistle denied Labour MP Steve Rotherham’s suggestion that the BBC would “have pursued the investigation differently and with more urgency if it had been a different celebrity and diffeent broadcaster.”
Mr Entwistle pointed out: “As far as I am aware that over the years no newspaper landed any investigation on Jimmy Savile.”
Mr Enwistle said that it did not follow that the decision on 5 November last year by Peter Rippon to pull the Newsnight investigation was linked to the schedule or outside pressure.
He said: “It is possible that Mr Rippon may have just changed his mind.”
He added that Mr Rippon was “fixated on the police investigation” in Savile which the program was based on.
11.50am: Mr Entwistle admitted his appearance on the Today program after the ITV documentary gave the wrong impression about the BBC. He said: “I should have made it clear that I was always prepared to see an internal investigation.”
11.40am: Labour MP Paul Farrelly asked why the BBC had missed the main story that Savile was a paedophile and noted that Mr Rippon’s blog had highlighted that the investigation had not raised new questions about the police as a reason for pulling it. Mr Farrelly said to Mr Entwistle: “There seems to me that there was an amazing lack of curiosity by journalists. You and an organisation full of journalists.”
11.35am: Mr Collins asked why as editor in chief Mr Entwhistle had not become involved in the decision making on the programme. Mr Entwhistle said: “The editor in chief becomes involved in very few programmes.”
11.30am: The director-general came under fire for not getting all the information before he made public statements on the Newsnight item. Mr Enwhistle said he did not look at the Newsnight scripts before making a public statement so he “could be in reserve” to deal with a disciplinary matter should it become necessary.
He added: “I was very disappointed the blog [by Peter Rippon explaining why the story was pulled] was inaccurate.”
Tory MP Damian Collins said: “Disappointed? That’s not a very raw emotion considering what has gone on.”
11.27am: Mr Entwhistle said there “had been a breakdown in communications” between journalists and the editor at Newsnight.
Mr Bradshaw attacked Mr Entwhistle for continuing to “tour the studios still peddling Mr Rippon’s version of events” after he had received evidence it was not correct.
Mr Entwhistle insisted that at the time he had no reason to disbelieve Mr Rippon’s account.
11.25am: Mr Entwhistle was asked by Labour MP Ben Bradshaw, a former Culture Secretary, if the decision to pull the Newsnight inquiry was a “catastrophic error”.
Mr Entwhistle said: “I came away from that Panorama program firmly of the view that that investigation should have been allowed to continue.”
11.20am: Tory MP Thérèse Coffey said that Mr Rippon’s use of “just the women”, talking about the victims, in defending his decision to pull the Savile item from Newsnight “shows that the culture has not changed at all”.
Mr Entwhistle insisted that the culture has changed, but admitted: “That phrase is unacceptable.”
11.15am: Mr Entwhistle defended the inability of the Corporation which had uncovered paedophile activities in news investigations to realise what Savile was doing. He said: “From what I have discovered so far Mr Savile conducted his disgusting behaviour in a manner which was very carefully and successfully concealed.”
But he said that the celebrity had got away with his crimes. He said: “Jimmy Savile is dead now so to that extent he has got away with it.”
He told the committee he has appealed to BBC employees past and present to come for ward if they have any information.
11.10am: Mr Davies said that Mr Entwhistle had a “lamentable lack of knowledge”.
11am: Mr Entwhistle came under fire for not knowing what the current situation is at the BBC and not being able to say how many of the five to ten serious cases involved current employees.
Tory MP Philip Davies told the director general that he “needs to get a grip of your organisation”.
Mr Davies he was “surprised” when Mr Entwhistle admitted he had not looked into how many complaints of sexual harrassment there have been.
Mr Entwhistle said: “I have been assured that there have not been a significant number.”
He was asked by mr Davies what was a significant number and said that he would be concerned if there were “more than five a year”.
Mr Davies retorted: “So up to five a year is OK then?”
Mr Entwhistle said “information is being assembled” on current employees of the BBC.
He added that the BBC review would answer specific questions including who took children back stage to see Savile or whether there was a paedophile ring at the BBC.
Mr Davies accused him of trying to “farm off” responsibility for answering the questions.
10.50am: Mr Entwhistle told MPs that he “is convinced” that there was a culture at the BBC which allowed abuse by Savile and others to take place. But he added: “I’m not sure in the 60s and 70s people thought there was anything they could do.”
10.45am: Mr Entwhistle told the committee the police asked him not to set up an internal inquiry immediately. He said that the BBC’s reputation has been damaged by the story. “There is no question what Jimmy Savile did and the way the BBC behaved in the years and the culture and practice will raise questions of trust and reputation for us. This is a gravely serious matter and cannot look back with anything but horror.”
On the need to make a correction to Mr Rippon’s blog as to the reasons for pulling the Newsnight investigation Mr Entwhistle said it was “an embarrassment.”
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