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BBC heads roll for Savile

December 19, 2012

The editor and deputy editor of BBC’s Newsnight are leaving on the publication of the Pollard inquiry into the dropping  of a programme on Jimmy Savile. The  inquiry led by Nick Pollard, the former head of Sky News, identified chaos and confusion in the news operation at Newsnight.

Stephen Mitchell, the deputy head of BBC News will also step aside early in the new year, a few months ahead of retirement. He was heavily criticised for ‘inexplicably’ removing the Savile investigation from a risk list of programmes, thereby preventing it from coming to wider attention in BBC management.

Helen Boaden, director of BBC News, failed to play a more active role in managing the crisis in public confidence in the BBC’s editorial standards. But she will return to work after stepping aside during the inquiry.

George Entwistle, who resigned as director-general last month, failed to act swiftly to correct errors in a BBC blog seeking to justify abandoning the Savile investigation. It also emerged he was sent an email in May 2010 warning him of the “conflicting nature” of Savile’s character and suggesting that the BBC might not want to do tribute programmes – it did.  He was sent another email last October, shortly after Savile had died, informing him that no obituary had been prepared “because of the darker side of the story”. Entwistle told the inquiry he did not read that email.  He has insisted he did not know Newsnight was investigating allegations of sex abuse by Savile when he decided to continue with planned Christmas tributes to Savile.

Pollard found that many of the people involved in the two investigations had spent nearly all the working lives at the BBC and may have been affected by “insularity” and lack of openness to external attitudes and practices. He recommended that the BBC review its editorial management and consider ending the system under which the director-general is also the editor in chief.

In a separate report by the BBC Trust into the Newsnight programme which resulted in Lord McAlpine being wrongly described as a paedophile found that responsibility for approving the report lay with Adrian Van Klaveren, head of Radio 5 – ‘acting up’ because Boaden and Mitchell had been removed from decision making.

The report concluded that airing the allegations into McAlpine came about largely because of a failure by members of the team to follow the BBC’s own editorial guidelines. The report was a “grave breach which had been costly to all concerned” and resulted in the public being misled, the Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee (ESC) found.


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