BBC to shed light on Savile allegations
Mon, 22 Oct 2012 6:35p.m.
By Ingrid Hipkiss
The decision by BBC bosses not to broadcast sexual abuse allegations about former presenter Jimmy Savile is now the subject of an explosive documentary by the BBC's Panorama programme.
A series of emails reveals how the editor of Newsnight suddenly changed his mind and decided the story wasn't strong enough to run, despite protests from his journalists.
Mr Savile was a national hero, but after his death last year two BBC Newsnight journalists spent weeks investigating claims that he was a paedophile.
“I was very unhappy that the story didn't run because I felt we'd spoken to people who collectively deserved to be heard and they weren't heard, and I thought that that was a failure,” says journalist Liz Mackean.
“I was sure the story would come out one way or another and that if it did the BBC would be accused of a cover up,” says producer Meirion Jones.
The story did get out, BBC’s arch rival ITV broke it instead, and 200 potential victims have now come forward alleging they were abused by the TV legend.
And now BBC's Panorama programme has put the spotlight on why its own sister-programme didn't report the story.
“Why did the editor of Newsnight decide this wasn't a strong enough programme to be broadcast?" asks former director general of BBC Greg Dyke. "I suspect he thought the evidence wasn't strong enough but he needed or someone needed to say that, and nobody did.”
Instead, the programme's editor claimed the investigation was focused on how police handled claims against Mr Saville, and in his opinion there was no story.
“Ever since the decision was made to shelve our story, I've not been happy with public statements made by the BBC, I think they're very misleading,” says Ms Mackean.
A series of emails shows BBC's head of news and director-general knew about the Newsnight investigation, and were wary it would clash with a series of tribute shows to Mr Savile.
Veteran BBC journalist John Simpson says the BBC's reputation is in tatters.
“This is the worst crisis that I can remember in my 50 years at the BBC,” says Mr Simpson.
The BBC's director general refused to be interviewed for the programme but will face a panel of MPs about the scandal later this week.
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