Decision to abandon Savile programme 'pathetic'
Serious failings at the head of the BBC, characterised by weakness, caution and poor management, led to the decision to scrap an investigation into broadcaster Jimmy Savile, senior staff told an inquiry.
The scathing criticism from senior figures, such as the BBC Trust’s chairman, Lord Chris Patten, and broadcaster Jeremy Paxman, was included in 3,000 pages of transcripts published yesterday.
The inquiry was held last year into the BBC’s decision to scrap an investigation that would have revealed Savile as a predatory paedophile a year before it eventually happened.
The transcripts show a divided ship, where executives such as George Entwistle, who lasted just 45 days as director-general, never took command of the controversy.
Meanwhile, current affairs programme Newsnight was equally split, with journalists who wanted to broadcast the Savile programme overruled by its editor.
In his remarks, which were edited because some of them were judged libellous, Paxman said the decision to abandon the programme was “pathetic”.
However, he believed the programme’s editor, Peter Rippon, was subsequently “hung out to dry” by senior management who went looking for a scapegoat when the controversy erupted.
BBC executives, he said, “are preoccupied with their pensions” and lack creativity, while he questioned the BBC’s decision to promote Savile.
The BBC had become “a more editorially timid place” after the inquiry held into the death of weapons scientist David Kelly, who had raised doubts about British claims that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
The BBC, said the Newsnight presenter, was “over-managed” and top executives need “to get out of this comfortable little bunker in which they all live, talking to one another”.
Mr Entwistle did not grasp the seriousness of the crisis , believing he “had too many other things to do”.
Head of television news Helen Boaden, now chief of Radio News, had at first not grasped the significance of the Newsnight investigation.
Believing that the allegations against Savile were “smoke without fire largely”, she said she had been more cautious than usual because the BBC had been humiliated months before after a Panorama investigation into Primark could not be shown to be true.
Lord Patten said that BBC management “had faffed about” after ITV had outed Savile as a paedophile, unable properly to explain why the BBC had abandoned its own investigation.