BBC director general George Entwistle has told MPs that the decision not to proceed with the Newsnight investigation into Jimmy Savile was taken solely by the programme’s editor Peter Rippon, whose failure to give an accurate version of events in his blog was “a matter of regret and embarrassment”.
In evidence given today to the Culture, Media and Sport select committee, the director general confirmed that he was responsible for side-lining Rippon due to the inaccuracies contained in his executive’s blog published on 2 October.
“It is a matter of regret and embarrassment that the version of events were not as accurate as they should have been,” Entwistle said. “I would have expected the editor of the programme to give a definitive and factually accurate account of what happened in his programme”.
Entwistle said that he took a number of days to order the correction, which was updated on 22 October, because he had “absolutely to keep alive in my mind that the version Peter Rippon gave was accurate, after all he was the editor of the programme.”
He confirmed he personally ordered the corrections because it “had to be got right” and that he believed that the Newsnight investigation into Savile “should have been allowed to continue”. He said that given the evidence he now has he was “surprised” that it was dropped.
He blamed the decision between the “difference of opinion between the people who worked on the programme and the editor of the programme, Peter Rippon”.
“I have been able to find no evidence that any kind of managerial pressure to drop the programme was applied – the decision was made by Peter Rippon,” he said adding that that the current Pollard inquiry would determine Rippon’s thinking.
“It is very hard to determine someone else’s state of mind,” he said.
The director general also defended his decision not to ask BBC director of news Helen Boaden more about Newsnight’s Savile investigation when she mentioned it to him at a Women in Film and Television lunch on December 2 last year.
As head of Vision at the time, Entwistle felt it was inappropriate to put undue pressure on Boaden about the investigation.
He said that he regarded her intervention in mentioning the story to him as the behaviour of a “considerate colleague” and that he was “determined not to show undue interest” in it with Boaden.
“It wasn’t clear to Helen if [the story] was going to stand up or not,” he said, adding that he thought it had “the quality of a preliminary investigation”, although he was prepared to change the schedule if the programme was to be aired.
“My assumption was if there was anything I needed to know I would have been told it,” he said.
He declined to accept that his personal handling of the affair was poor but he said that the subject of Jimmy Savile’s alleged conduct at the BBC was “gravely serious” and a “matter of grave regret for me”.
He said that his priority from the outset was to not compromise the police investigation he anticipated taking place and that the fact that Panorama investigated another area of the BBC was something that “we should be enormously proud of”. He said that the BBC was “asking questions of itself that no other organisation on earth would do”.
He added that the BBC was “tracking” current complaints of sexual harassment and was prepared to involve the police.
“I don’t believe that Jimmy Savile could have done what he did without there being a broader cultural problem.”