BBC director general George Entwistle has been forced to go before a parliamentary committee to defend the UK pubcaster’s handling of sexual abuse claims against former presenter Jimmy Savile.
Giving evidence to MPs at a House of Commons culture committee investigation this morning, Entwistle expressed “horror” at the “gravely serious” allegations that Savile, who died in 2011, had abused young people – sometimes on BBC premises – over four decades.
He said a “significant exercise in cultural examination needed to take place” and that the “culture and practises” of the BBC seem to have allowed Savile to get away with the alleged abuse.
He defended the two independent inquiries the BBC has launched into the affair since the scandal came to light, amid growing questions over whether the corporation has done enough.
He also said the BBC was giving its full support to police investigating the matter.
Amid increasing pressure, Entwistle was also forced to answer questions about an investigation by BBC2′s flagship current affairs programme Newsnight in December into Savile that never made it to air.
Later that month, the corporation aired a tribute to Savile. At the time, Entwistle was head of the BBC’s production arm, BBC Vision.
Entwistle admitted that the BBC’s director of news Helen Boaden had given him a “heads up” at a lunch that same month that a Newsnight investigation could have some impact on the BBC Christmas schedule.
However, he said he had “no recollection” of asking what the investigation was about, and had “no recollection of asking further questions about it.”
“What was in my mind was a determination not to show an undue interest,” he said, claiming that as head of television programming he did not want to interfere with the corporation’s newsgathering efforts.
He claimed that he would have expected to be informed if the news investigation was going to air and would have acted accordingly if that had taken place.
“There’s no question here of anybody trying to turn a blind eye,” he said.
However, when asked if he had failed in his efforts to strike a balance between not interfering or not showing interest, he said: “I don’t believe I did fail, but the system as a whole seems to have not got this right.”
His perceived inaction was used by the panel of MPs to question whether there was a wider problem of structure and accountability at the BBC.
When asked about an investigation into the Newsnight-Savile affair by another BBC news programme, Panorama, which aired its exposé last night, Entwistle said its decision to do so was a “symptom of the health” of the journalism at the pubcaster.
He said the BBC was investigating itself in a way that no other media corporation in the world would.
Entwistle also admitted regret that a blog post, published this month in an attempt to clear up why Newsnight had shelved its initial enquiry into Savile, was “inaccurate or incomplete in some respects.”
Newsnight editor Peter Rippon stepped aside yesterday while the review into the management of the show is investigated.