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LONDON – There was no cover up or pressure from BBC bosses to drop a Newsnight investigation into allegations of sexual abuse by the former Top of the Pops host and BBC stalwart Jimmy Savile.
The BBC Trust published Wednesday (Dec. 19) the 185-page report of an independent review carried out by former head of Sky News Nick Pollard into the handling of and fall out from the decision to ax a Newsnight investigation into child sexual abuse by the late presenter.
The report pulled no punches when it came to criticizing the public broadcaster describing it as “completely incapable” of dealing with the Savile affair.
Adherence to “rigid management chains” meant the BBC floundered amid “chaos and confusion” and “a lack of leadership from senior executives.”
Peter Rippon, Newsnight‘s editor, is to be replaced after the report by Pollard, after his decision to drop the Savile investigation was found to be “seriously flawed.”
Pollard told a press conference at the BBC in central London that Rippon’s decision was also “done in good faith” without him being put under “undue pressure” by his bosses, the BBC’s director of news Helen Boaden and her deputy director, Stephen Mitchell.
Mitchell comes in for heavy criticism in the report, which says he made a “serious mistake” in deciding to remove the intended Newsnight Savile item from the BBC’s “managed risk programs list” in November 2011.
Had he left it on that roster, it would have flagged the existence of a potentially controversial item to other BBC executives.
A second report – published by the editorial standards committee of the BBC Trust – examining the circumstances around the misidentification of British politician Lord McAlpine wrongly implicating him in a scandal about alleged abuse of children at care homes in Wales in a separate Newsnight report – also revealed that three unnamed employees had been subject to disciplinary action following a “grave breach” of standards.
Pollard noted that the “most worrying aspect” of the Newsnight decision to drop the Savile item was that the public broadcaster showed a “complete inability to deal with the events that followed.”
Along with the McAlpine Newsnight misstep, the fallout saw the resignation of BBC director general George Entwistle after just 54 days in the position.
“The efforts to get to the truth behind the Savile story proved beyond the combined efforts of the senior management, legal department, corporate communications team and anyone else for well over a month,” Pollard said.
He noted that a culture of suspicion and “an apparent adherence to rigid management chains and a reluctance to by pass them” hampered a resolution.
The BBC Trust said it would be the “first and top priority” for incoming director general Lord Tony Hall to “reform” the BBC’s management culture.
Accepting that the BBC had been dominated by “chaos and confusion” that could have been “avoided by better leadership” the trust said it expected change from Hall within “three months” of his arrival in March.
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