There’s nothing quite like the BBC when it goes into one of its periodic bouts of self-analysis and we had another blast this morning on the Today programme about its treatment of the Jimmy Savile affair.
The BBC’s Panorama is airing a programe tonight examining whether or not another BBC programme Newsnight pulled an item on Savile because Newsnight editor Peter Rippon was leant on by his bosses (who may have included new director general George Entwistle) to drop the item because another bit of the Beeb was planning to run a tribute to the just-deceased DJ, charity fundraiser and paedophile who had been one of the corporation’s biggest stars in the 1980s and 90s.
Panorama says it found no evidence this happened although item producer Meirion Jones says that Rippon and co moved the goalposts halfway through, saying that the item was “too weak” because it didn’t show there was any wrongdoing by the police or the Crown Prosecution Service in failing to pursue claims made over the years about Savile’s activities. Jones, an experienced producer, says his investigators did establish wrongdoing by Savile (they interviewed various women who later featured in the ITV show that blew the lid off the scandal) and so it should have run anyway. He told Rippon that the Beeb would land in the shit if it didn’t, which it has.
This morning Steve Hewlett, presenter of The Media Show on Radio 4 and a former editor of Panorama, accused top BBC executives of being, at best, less than frank in their initial denials that any interference with the Newsnight item had taken place. Listeners may have gained the impression he actually thought they were lying through their teeth.
This is a right old mess and no mistake. Entwistle, who was head of BBC Vision (television) when the item was pulled, is currently closeted with the Beeb’s lawyers as he has to face the Parliamentary Culture select committee tomorrow. Will he make it?
One of Entwistle, head of news Helen Boaden or Newsnight editor Rippon will surely have to fall on their sword and Rippon might not be a big enough sacrifice.
Newsnight editor Peter Rippon is ‘stepping aside’ while the Beeb continues (or starts) its enquiries into the Savile affair.
Whether or not this will be enough to stem the tidal wave of criticism from all and sundry, including PM David Cameron today, remains to be seen. Probably not is the answer.
This particular crisis is even worse for the Beeb than the Andrew Gilligan affair when reporter Gilligan accused the Blair government of ‘sexing up’ its dossier on Iraq’s supposed chemicals weapons (it had, Iraq didn’t have any or any that worked).
That led to the resignation of popular BBC director general Greg Dyke when the trustees failed to back him.
But most, if not all, BBC types were behind Dyke and indeed Gilligan. Now they’re at each other’s throats with Newsnight staff turning on the management.
New director general George Entwistle’s position is looking increasingly untenable.