Fri, Dec 21, 2012 - Page 7 News List

BBC cleared of sex abuse cover-up

AFP, LONDON

An official report on Wednesday strongly criticized the BBC’s handling of allegations of child sex abuse against late presenter Jimmy Savile, but cleared the world’s biggest broadcaster of a cover-up.

The findings by an independent inquiry sparked the resignation of the BBC’s deputy director of news, and led to the editor and deputy editor of the program at the center of the scandal being replaced.

The report exposed the “chaos and confusion” at the BBC, although it dismissed claims that its flagship current affairs program, Newsnight, dropped an investigation into Savile so as not to jeopardize Christmas tribute shows to him.

The BBC commissioned the inquiry by former Sky News executive Nick Pollard in October during a major crisis at the corporation that cost then-director-general George Entwistle his job.

Savile, who died last year at the age of 84, was one of the BBC’s top television and radio presenters.

The child abuse claims were first made public by rival broadcaster ITV two months ago and since then, police have identified 199 crimes in which Savile is a suspect, including 31 alleged rapes.

Newsnight first had evidence of the allegations a year ago, shortly after Savile’s death, but it dropped the story after just a few weeks.

The Pollard report criticized the decision to drop the probe and the BBC’s failure to deal with the ensuing crisis, which it said was plagued by infighting and a “critical lack of leadership and coordination.”

“In my view, the most worrying aspect of the Jimmy Savile story for the BBC was not the decision to drop the story itself, it was the complete inability to deal with the events that followed,” Pollard said.

BBC Trust chairman Chris Patten, a former governor of Hong Kong, said the BBC accepted the review in its “entirety” and looked at the failings of the corporation with “pretty searing honesty.”

In an e-mail to staff, acting director-general Tim Davie welcomed the finding that there was no cover-up, but acknowledged the report had exposed “clear failings” which must now be addressed.

He announced a shake-up of staff at Newsnight, saying the program’s editor and deputy editor would move to other BBC jobs.

He also said Stephen Mitchell was resigning as deputy director of BBC news and would leave next year after 38 years with the corporation.

Mitchell had stood aside pending the Pollard review and was criticized in the report for removing Newsnight’s Savile investigation from an internal BBC list that flagged up controversial stories.

Mitchell’s boss, director of news Helen Boaden, keeps her job despite being criticized for failing to take greater responsibility.

The scandal over Newsnight’s dropped investigation was compounded when the program broadcast a report last month which wrongly implicated former Conservative Party politician Alistair McAlpine in child sex abuse.

The BBC was forced to apologize and pay substantial damages to McAlpine.

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