The BBC is locked into “its worst crisis for 50 years” as the row escalates over how the org turned a blind eye to sexual abuse committed by one of its biggest stars over six decades — and allegedly dropped a program that would have exposed him.
The controversy centers on the late Jimmy Savile, who died in October 2011, just before his 85th birthday. The celebrity host, famous for his charity work with children, was revealed as a pedophile in a documentary aired by the BBC’s commercial rival ITV at the beginning of this month, sparking the furor.
On Monday, Prime Minister David Cameron spoke out, saying the nation was appalled by the allegations about Savile, which he said “seem to get worse by the day.”
It is especially damaging for the Beeb because it has emerged that a probe into the presenter’s behavior by the pubcaster’s own public affairs show, “Newsnight,” last November was pulled. The show’s team had spent six weeks probing reports that Savile had abused children at a school in Surrey at the height of his fame in the 1970s when he presented “Top of the Pops” on BBC1.
The team discovered that in 2007, the police had investigated allegations of child sex by Savile.
But “Newsnight” editor Peter Rippon decided not to air the piece amid suspicions that execs were leaned on to pull the show because the Beeb was about to air tributes to Savile during the Christmas schedule.
The scandal could damage the Beeb’s new director general, George Entwistle, who at the time of the “Newsnight” probe was head of BBC Vision and responsible for all TV output.
On Monday, the BBC suspended Rippon after it emerged that his comments in a blog on Oct. 2 regarding reasons for canning the Savile program were “inaccurate or incomplete.”
Meanwhile, the BBC’s flagship current events program “Panorama” weighed into the debate on Monday with an episode titled “What the BBC Knew.”
It makes it clear “Newsnight” had substantial evidence from women abused by Savile as children and was not, as Rippon had said originally, focused on why Savile was not prosecuted following the police inquiry.
Interviewed for the show, John Simpson, one of the pubcaster’s most experienced reporters, said, “This is the worst crisis that I can remember in my nearly 50 years at the BBC.”
In a statement, the BBC Trust said, “It is deeply concerning that there have been inaccuracies in the BBC’s own description of what happened in relation to the ‘Newsnight’ investigation.”
Two BBC inquiries have been set up to examine who knew what inside the BBC regarding Savile’s activities and if Rippon nixed the “Newsnight” probe because of pressure from above.