Joe Utichi contributes to Deadline’s UK coverage:
Only one month into his tenure, new BBC director general George Entwistle is being tested with a scandal that could have far-reaching implications. The brouhaha involves sexual abuse allegations against a deceased former star host and the corporation’s handling of the situation as far back as the 1970s. Claims against the late Jimmy Savile, one of the BBC’s most beloved presenters for more than three decades on such programs as wish-granting show Jim’ll Fix It and music chart staple Top Of The Pops, include at least 40 potential victims who have come forward. The Metropolitan Police now says its investigations involve 340 lines of inquiry. Entwistle has been criticized for his slow response to the scandal, whose recent revelations indicate the BBC may have turned a blind eye to Savile’s alleged behavior. If the public’s trust in the BBC is breached, the Financial Times points out, “This could impact the scope and financing of the broadcaster over the next decade” while it negotiates a new charter ahead of 2016.
On Friday, Entwistle expressed “a profound and heartfelt apology – on behalf of the BBC – to every victim.” He also said the corporation will hold two independent inquiries into the affair. On the one hand, Entwistle said there will be a review of the “culture and practices of the BBC during the years that Jimmy Savile worked here, and afterwards.” The same inquiry will examine the BBC’s current child protection, whistleblowing, bullying and harassment policies. Earlier in the week, Entwistle had said the BBC would investigate the matter only after the police had completed its investigation. Friday he said the inquiry would go forward “once the police have indicated they are happy for it to proceed.”
The other review will examine a “failing” in BBC management’s handling of a proposed item about the allegations against Savile that was to air on the network’s current affairs program Newsnight last year. The segment was abandoned in December, but Entwistle has said that in his previous role as head of BBC Vision, he had no influence or authority on BBC News investigations. Rival broadcaster ITV last week aired the documentary Exposure: The Other Side Of Jimmy Savile which featured alleged victims and sparked the storm currently rocking the BBC. Entwistle had earlier defended the decision by Newsnight editor Peter Rippon not to air the story. Rippon has said there was no cover-up from BBC bosses and that the story was dropped because the investigation “had not established any institutional failure.”
Meanwhile, the UK government may now be dragged into the scandal as it’s emerged the Department of Health could be sued directly over claims Savile abused patients when he volunteered at a state-run hospital. Savile, who died last year, was knighted in 1990 for his benevolence, but Prime Minister David Cameron recently said the honor could be posthumously removed in the wake of the recent allegations. An Order of the British Empire expires upon death, but holders are still referred to as Sir or Dame.
- Jimmy Savile