22 Feb 2013

Pollard inquiry: after Savile, how accountable is the BBC?

The BBC publishes 3,000 pages of documents in a bid to be “open and transparent” about its investigations into the Jimmy Savile scandal – but, as our editor Ben de Pear points out, issues remain.

The BBC has published thousands of pages of evidence from the inquiry into why Newsnight dropped its Jimmy Savile abuse investigation, led by Nick Pollard.

There are emails, transcripts, even text messages included in the evidence.

Acting Director-General Tim Davie said: “The BBC has been open and transparent in its handling of this unhappy chapter in our history.

“It has not been an entirely comfortable process for us to go through but it is right that we did it this way. It is important that the BBC now moves forward with the lessons learned and continues to regain the public’s trust.”

However, there has been criticism of the fact that some of the evidence has been redacted – and also a lack of television interviews by BBC bosses.

At one point the transcript from Peter Horrocks, head of global news at the BBC, reads: “It is not any secret that…” but the rest of the sentence has been obscured (see below). The BBC says only about 3 per cent of the transcripts have been blacked out for “a very limited number of legal reasons”.

Conservative peer Lord McAlpine, who was falsely accused of child abuse via social media after a separate BBC Newsnight broadcast which did not name him, said the BBC was acting like the “secret service” by redacting some of the evidence.

Horrocks transcript from the BBC's Pollard report into Savile

Channel 4 News Editor Ben de Pear has also raised concerns over the seeming lack of willingness for the BBC’s Mr Davie to be interviewed by any other broadcaster than the BBC itself.

“So as the BBC release a publicly funded report into a public body the acting DG of the BBC will only be interviewed by the BBC about the BBC,” he said.

Savile abuse ‘common gossip’ at BBC

Regardless of arguments over how “open” the BBC has been, the documents do provide a revealing picture into what happened last year and previously at the BBC regarding Jimmy Savile.

In his evidence, Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman said it was “common gossip” at the corporation that Jimmy Savile liked “young” people. He also said the shelving of the Newsnight investigation was a mistake.

“These people prey upon children in vulnerable situations and when the children complain they are not believed. I thought that we had behaved like many other authorities [in dropping the story] and I didn’t like it,” he said.

Among the other revelations published today are details of comments left by viewers on a BBC tribute webpage to Savile which were removed by moderators employed by the corporation.

He was a paedophile. You may not like the truth but he was. It will all tumble out now. Comment removed by BBC-employed moderators on tribute webpage

A transcript of the interview between Mr Pollard and George Entwistle, former director general who resigned over the scandal, refers to examples of the comments including one person who wrote “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?”

Another person wrote: “He was a paedophile. You may not like the truth but he was. It will all tumble out now.” The documents also include testimony from ex-Newsnight editor Peter Rippon, former director general Mark Thompson, and BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten.

The Pollard review, which was set up by the BBC to look at whether there were failings over the decision to drop the Newsnight Savile investigation, found in December that the process had been “flawed”.

The review, led by former Sky News boss Nick Pollard, said there was no cover-up at the BBC to protect Savile tribute shows, but did say the corporation had been in “chaos”.

Since the death of former BBC presenter Jimmy Savile in 2011, allegations have emerged – first broadcast via ITV – that he sexually abused hundreds of children and young people over five decades.


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