Jimmy Savile Sex-Abuse Scandal: Possible Cover-Up Deepens Hole For BBC

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The BBC
The BBC

As more information surrounding the Jimmy Savile sex-abuse scandal comes to light, the BBC is changing its official story about how much it really knew.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said Monday that the government-funded broadcaster has “serious questions” to answer after the BBC changed an earlier account by one of its top editors as to why it shelved an investigative documentary that probed into the scandal. The investigation into four decades of alleged sexual abuse by the beloved TV presenter Jimmy Savile had been scheduled to air on the BBC’s flagship news program, “Newsnight,” in December 2011, but was scrapped at the last minute.

“The developments today are concerning because the BBC has effectively changed its story about why it dropped the ‘Newsnight’ program about Jimmy Savile," Cameron told reporters after a speech in London.

Cameron’s comments come just hours after the BBC posted a statement which corrected an earlier blog post by Peter Rippon, the editor of “Newsnight.” Rippon wrote that the decision not to air the “Newsnight” investigation was made for editorial reasons, and that the program had no evidence against the BBC. The BBC now says that Rippon’s post was “inaccurate or incomplete in some respects.

Rippon has since “stepped aside” to make way for an ongoing investigation by British police. In his original blog post, which was posted on Oct. 2, Rippon had expressed doubt that the “Newsnight” investigation served much public good. “Newsnight is not normally interested in celebrity expose,” he wrote. “Savile was unable to defend himself. What was the public interest served by reporting it given he is dead? The nature of the allegations and the level of proof required. The fact the incidents were 40 years ago.”

According to Reuters, the BBC’s admission of the post’s inaccuracy has increased suspicion that the broadcaster did not want the “Newsnight” episode to interfere with a Christmas special commemorating Savile’s life as a presenter and charity fundraiser. Savile had died only two months earlier at the age of 84. It wasn’t until nearly a year later that the BBC’s rival network, ITV, ran its own investigative report in which several women came forward to say that they had been abused by Savile.    

Meanwhile, “Newsnight” producer Meirion Jones said in an interview with “Panorama” -- another BBC program -- that he had warned his editor that failing to run the story could present the appearance of a cover-up.   

For its part, the BBC has since made efforts to present the appearance of transparency by posting nearly constant updates about the scandal on its website, including a “Who’s Who” page containing the names, photos and bios of the 10 or so BBC staffers and investigators who are in some way connected with the ordeal.

Jimmy Savile was best known as the host of the BBC programs “Top of the Pops” and “Jim’ll Fix It.” The eccentric presenter enjoyed a decades-long television career, rising to Dick Clark-like renown throughout the U.K. British authorities believe Savile may have abused up to 60 girls as young as 13, with incidents of abuse dating back to 1959.

In its Monday blog post, the BBC said it is continuing to work with Nick Pollard, the former head of Britain’s Sky News, “to determine whether there were any failings in the BBC’s management of the Newsnight investigation.”

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