In the Media

Panorama investigates Newsnight decision to drop Jimmy Savile probe

PUBLISHED October 18, 2012

George Entwistle will appear before the culture, media and sport select committee just hours after the corporation's flagship documentary show looks into how much he knew about the Newsnight probe.

Michael Crick, the Channel 4 News chief political correspondent and former Newsnight political editor, described the timing as a "huge problem" for Mr Entwistle.

The director general has claimed from the outset that while he was aware that Newsnight was looking into Savile at the end of last year, he did not know what the investigation was about.

Peter Rippon, the editor of Newsnight, has insisted the investigation was dropped for "editorial reasons".

Mr Entwistle, who was director of BBC Vision at the time the Newsnight investigation was shelved, has been criticised for allowing the corporation to broadcast tribute programmes to Savile without checking whether Newsnight had discovered anything compromising.

The director general has been at pains to stress that the editors of BBC programmes have complete independence, free from any influence by directors-general, and the timing of the Panorama programme appears to show that he is as good as his word.

A number of inquries have been set up into the standards at the BBC as well as the allegations of abuse themsevles.

Dame Janet Smith, a former High Court judge, will look into whether the BBC's culture allowed sexual harassment and assault to take place while Jimmy Savile was one of its biggest stars for 40 years.

In a separate inquiry, Nick Pollard, the former head of Sky News, will look at whether a BBC's Newsnight programme probing Savile's past was shelved to cover-up his alleged abuse.

The Pollard Review will begin immediately, but the Smith Review may be delayed while police investigate claims from more than 60 potential victims that they were molested by the late DJ and broadcaster.

It came after Downing Street said David Cameron may call a separate public inquiry after the BBC and police have done their work.

The Prime Minister's spokesman said he "has not ruled out" an independent hearing into the "truly shocking" revelations.

Nick Clegg, the deputy Prime Minister, said there may be a case for a public inquiry as Savile's alleged ability to abuse in so many areas of public life shows the "dark side" of celebrity.

Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, previously called for the Government to take a "broad look" at the "horrific allegations" embroiling Savile, who died last year at the age of 84.

The BBC and police inquiries were prompted after ITV broadcast interviews with a series of women claiming to have been assaulted by Savile in the 1970s.

Since its programme was aired, dozens more women have come forward with allegations about Savile, while presenters Liz Kershaw and Sandi Toksvig, have said they were routinely groped by more senior male colleagues at the BBC.

Some of the evidence about Savile collected by a former child protection officer had previously been rejected by the BBC's Newsnight, which went on to show programmes celebrating its star's life and charity works.

Maria Miller, the Culture Secretary, on Monday suggested the Newsnight investigation was "inappropriately pulled", although her office later claimed she had not meant to say that.

George Entwistle will face questions over the decision when he appears before the culture, media and sport committee of MPs as early as next week.

Mr Entwistle has said he was aware Newsnight was investigating Savile last year, when he was the head of BBC Vision, but claims he did not ask about the investigation in case he was accused of meddling.

He is likely to be asked why the BBC decided to screen tribute programmes to Savile after his death last year without finding out more about the Newsnight investigation.

Kevin Marsh, editor of the BBC College of Journalism and a former editor of Radio 4's Today programme, said the "real and present danger" to the BBC and to Mr Entwistle was the question: "Why didn't the head of Vision shelve the tributes once he knew that a BBC programme - or indeed any other part of the media - was finally investigating Savile?"

Speaking at the Cheltenham Literary Festival, Jeremy Vine, the Radio 2 presenter and former Newsnight journalist, said it would be a scandal if anyone at the BBC had allowed the "hagiographies" about Savile's life to be aired if they knew the details of the Newsnight investigation.