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U.K. TV Veteran Calls for 'Radical' Break-up of BBC in Wake of Abuse Scandal

BBC Keeps Olympics Through 2020

"The arthritic response of the BBC to the Savile affair has exposed an unnecessarily complex management structure," says former Channel 5 and BSkyB top executive David Elstein.

LONDON - British TV veteran David Elstein has called for a "radical" break-up of the BBC in the wake of the Jimmy Savile sexual abuse scandal that has rocked the public broadcaster.

The former CEO of Britain's Channel 5 and former BSkyB head of programming is now  chairman of non-profit group openDemocracy and chairman of the Broadcasting Policy Group, which has in the past suggested BBC reforms, including for Britain's Conservative Party. He argued that two internal BBC probes into abuse allegations and a decision to drop a planned report on the Savile affair won't be enough.
 
In a guest column for The Times, part of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., he called for a "far more ambitious agenda." The key issue was not who was to blame for the scandal, but the "basic structure and governance of the corporation," he argued.

"The arthritic response of the BBC to the Savile affair has exposed an unnecessarily complex management structure, a confused and confusing governance system, and an urgent need to break up the monolithic news and current affairs department," Elstein said. "Politicians need to understand that those [internal BBC] inquiries - however worthwhile in themselves - are only a step in an irresistible direction."

Among other things, he suggested that the top executive post at the broadcaster, that of director general, should be split into two - a business-focused CEO role and an editor-in-chief position. And he said the BBC Trust, which is the BBC's governing body and is headed by the broadcaster's chairman, should be ditched, calling the separate organization "a bad idea from day one."
 
The TV veteran further suggested that the BBC radio and TV operation should be split up and signaled that he was also in favor of a split-off of the BBC News Channel into a separate editorial organization.

"Another radical step would be to divest BBC Production from BBC Broadcast," which would separate the content production from the broadcasting operations, Elstein said. "It has never been clear why the nation's largest creative force should be restricted to supplying just one of the U.K.'s broadcasters."

Elstein also called for the BBC to come under proper supervision and regulation from U.K. media regulator Ofcom. 

A slew of people have come out in recent weeks with accusations that the late Savile, who used to host the Top of the Pops music charts show on the BBC, sexually abused them when they were children.

New BBC director general George Entwistle and predecessor Mark Thompson, who will next week take over the New York Times Co. as CEO, have been criticized and questioned about their previous knowledge of any allegations. Both have said they weren't aware of abuse allegations in the past and didn't kill a planned BBC news show report about the affair.

Email: Georg.Szalai@thr.com

Twitter: @georgszalai