5 Things to Know About the Jimmy Savile Abuse Scandal and the BBC

9:49 AM PST 01/15/2013 by Georg Szalai

The U.K. public broadcaster in the fall found itself leaderless and launching probes after allegations against the late former TV host.

LONDON -- A sexual abuse scandal surrounding late British TV host Jimmy Savile has rocked U.K. public broadcaster BBC since September.

It has had personnel consequences and led to reputational damage.

Just before Christmas, it made more headlines after publication of an independent report about a flagship news show's decision to drop a report about the Savile allegations. And late last week, British police provided its latest estimate for the number of Savile victims.

Here is THR's look at 5 things to know about the scandal and what kind of further fallout it may cause this year:
 
1. Who was Jimmy Savile:
Born in 1926, Savile was a popular English DJ, TV host and media personality who became a household name in the 1960s. He was best known as the host of BBC TV show Jim'll Fix It and BBC music chart show Top of the Pops.

With a reputation for having many friends in the entertainment industry and among the royals, including Prince Charles, he also raised millions for charities.

After his death at age 84 in late 2011, hundreds of allegations of child sexual abuse and rape were voiced starting late last year.
 
2. What are the allegations against Savile and the BBC's role:
Savile is believed to have abused mostly young people decades ago, including on BBC premises.

London police said late in 2012 that he was suspected of 199 sex crimes.
In early January, a police report spoke of 214 crimes and about 450 abuse allegations that have been recorded against the late BBC host.

"These levels of reporting of sexual abuse against a single individual are unprecedented in the U.K.," police said.

Last week's 30-page report, "Giving Victims a Voice," from London's Metropolitan Police, better known as Scotland Yard, said that about three quarters of the victims were children. Most were between 13 and 16 years old. The youngest child cited among the abuse victims was 8.

The BBC is not only affected -- because Savile was one of its stars and more than 30 abuse cases extended to its premises -- but it also emerged late last year that BBC flagship news show Newsnight had dropped an investigation into allegations against him late in 2011.
 
3. Fallout for the BBC:
When George Entwistle took over the BBC as director general in September, he seemed overwhelmed by the scandal and slow to react to it. Amid questions about why Newsnight had dropped its report, Newsnight in early November also wrongly accused a British politician of child abuse. Entwistle had to resign.

Critics have said that the scandal at least temporarily hurt the BBC's image, made people wonder why it didn't react to past signs of Savile's conduct and raised questions about its reputation for journalistic excellence.

The Savile scandal also has led to two internal BBC probes.

One, led by former Sky News head Nick Pollard, looked into why newsmagazine Newsnight ended up shelving its investigation. In a report published just before Christmas, Pollard found that the public broadcaster was "completely incapable" of dealing with the Savile affair amid "a lack of leadership from senior executives."

Peter Rippon, Newsnight's editor, will be replaced, as the report found his decision to drop the Savile investigation "seriously flawed."

Pollard said there was no "undue pressure" from Rippon's bosses, BBC director of news Helen Boaden and her deputy director, Stephen Mitchell.

But Mitchell came in for strong criticism for the "serious mistake" of removing the planned Newsnight Savile report from a list of "managed risk programs," which meant the controversy wasn't flagged to other BBC executives.

The second internal BBC probe, overseen by former Appeal Court judge Janet Smith, is looking into the work culture and practices at the BBC during the time Savile worked there.
 
4. Fallout for others:
The police probe of Savile also has ensnared other high-profile names in Britain. Celebrity publicist Max Clifford, former glam-rock singer Gary Glitter, comedian Freddie Starr and former BBC radio DJ Dave Lee Travis are among those who have been arrested and questioned. They have all denied any wrongdoing.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., former BBC director general Mark Thompson recently started his new post as CEO of The New York Times Co. amid questions from the media, including The New York Times, about his knowledge of any indications of Savile's conduct and his role in the dropped Newsnight report. In both cases, he has said he didn't know until later and had no role.
 
5. What's next:
While the BBC seems to have felt the worst initial impact from the Savile scandal, a slew of open questions and new findings remain this year.

The Smith-led probe into the BBC's work culture and practices is expected to be published this year and could lead to new policies at the broadcasters and recommendations for how to avoid abuse in the future. It remains unclear whether the BBC will offer any financial compensation to people who became  victims of Savile on its premises.

By early December, the review team had been contacted by more than 290 individuals, including many former or current BBC employees, according to reports at the time.

Industry observers also expect incoming BBC director general Tony Hall to look to rejuvenate the BBC and strengthen its culture by emphasizing news values, a positive work environment and the need to regain audiences' trust. The TV industry veteran and current CEO of London's Royal Opera House takes the reins at the BBC in March and will be closely watched.

Meanwhile, BBC News has started a search for the next editor of Newsnight after the decision to drop Rippon, who had overseen it since 2008. An ad seeking a new head for the show was published late last week.

Plus, it remains unclear whether the various police probes into allegations against people other than Savile and interrogations of industry people will lead to any criminal charges and convictions this year.

Email: Georg.Szalai@thr.com

Twitter: @georgszalai
 

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