BBC Show to Raise Questions About Public Broadcaster's Top Executive

8:22 AM PST 10/22/2012 by Stuart Kemp

"Panorama" will look at the role of George Entwistle and others in the decision to drop a report on the Jimmy Savile sexual abuse scandal that one veteran says is the BBC's "worst crisis" in nearly 50 years.

LONDON – The pressure is mounting on BBC director general George Entwistle as all eyes turn Monday evening to BBC investigative news magazine Panorama and its report on the Jimmy Savile sexual abuse scandal.

The show, promoted in trailers by the BBC itself throughout Monday, is tipped by British media outlets, including the Independent and The Guardian to contain details of Entwistle's involvement in broadcast decisions made on his watch before he took up the top job.

Much of the current debate stems from a decision taken by senior management at the BBC to drop a report by news show Newsnight on the late Top of The Pops host Savile who has been named in a slew of charges of abuse. Despite some past suggestions of abuse by Savile that Newsnight was scheduled to focus on, Entwistle is facing questions about his judgment as he was one of the key decision makers opting to broadcast a tribute to Savile despite being warned by senior executives, according to the Independent.

Entwistle has declined to "participate" in Monday's Panorama program and, according to reports, will face pressure as the show reveals details of the decision.

 

According to the BBC's own news shows, the Panorama program is expected to highlight extensive email exchanges and communications that reveal Entwistle's knowledge of the shelved investigation on the flagship late evening Newsnight show.

John Simpson, the BBC foreign editor, described the scandal engulfing the BBC as "the worst crisis that I can remember in my nearly 50 years at the BBC," the Independent's report said.

The Panorama program also reveals that reporters working on the Savile story believed that Newsnight's editor Peter Rippon was under pressure from the highest echelons of the broadcaster to abandon the probe.

The BBC said earlier on Monday that Rippon was temporarily stepping aside amid an internal probe into the decision by the show to drop a planned report on the accusations against Savile.

Entwistle is also accused of misleading the public by subsequently claiming that the ditched investigation had focused on the Surrey Police's inquiry into Savile rather than the sex abuse allegations themselves.

The Panorama special, which screens Monday evening in the U.K. claims Helen Boaden, the BBC director of news, warned Entwistle about the investigation and its possible impact on planned tributes to Savile. At that time last December, Entwistle was the BBC's so-called director of vision, and Boaden brought up her concerns, because she thought he might have to change the Christmas schedules.

One media commentator described the scandal engulfing the public broadcaster as "its very own phone-hacking scandal," referring to what has fast become a national media debate.

The BBC rushed Monday night's Panorama special done, dropping a planned edition that with a focus on gambling. Entwistle is due to give evidence to the culture, media and sport select committee of the British parliament Tuesday morning.

The BBC has announced two main reviews of its role in the Savile scanal, one led by Janet Smith, who will look at allegations of abuse by Savile at the BBC, and the second by former Sky News editor Nick Pollard into the dropping of the Newsnight investigation.

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