Pollard inquiry: Savile decision plunged BBC into chaos Link to this video
A scathing report into the BBC’s handling of a shelved Newsnight exposé of Jimmy Savile revealed a culture of “suspicion and mistrust” at the corporation, riven by factions and in-fighting with “rigid management chains” that rendered it “completely incapable” of dealing with the scandal when it was exposed.One senior BBC executive resigned and another three were moved from their jobs following the publication of the 185-page report by Nick Pollard, the former head of Sky News. After a six-week inquiry that examined more than 10,000 emails and other documents and interviewed 19 people, at a cost of £2m, Pollard described the scandal as “one of the worst management crises in the BBC’s history”.”This report shows that the level of chaos and confusion was even greater than was apparent at the time. The efforts to get to the truth behind the Savile story proved beyond the combined efforts of the senior management, legal department, corporate communications team and anyone else for well over a month,” Pollard said. “Leadership and organisation seemed to be in short supply.”Newsnight’s investigation into allegations of child sex abuse by the late Jim’ll Fix It presenter was abandoned last December. The corporation found itself engulfed in a crisis it could not control after the revelations were broadcast in an ITV documentary in October.Pollard said the decision to axe the Newsnight investigation into Savile was “deeply flawed” but “done in good faith” by the programme’s editor, Peter Rippon. He dismissed any suggestion of a cover-up or that the Newsnight editor was put under “undue pressure” by his bosses ahead of two planned BBC tributes into Savile last Christmas.Former BBC director general George Entwistle was criticised as being “unnecessarily cautious” about the Savile investigation. Entwistle, who resigned at the height of the crisis in November following an erroneous Newsnight report about Lord McAlpine, claimed not to have read emails from two senior colleagues hinting at Savile’s “dark side”.BBC director of news Helen Boaden was censured for not taking “greater responsibility” as her division went into “virtual meltdown” in October and November. Boaden offered to resign at the height of the scandal, said the report, but the offer was not accepted by Entwistle.Boaden, who stepped aside from her job for the duration of the Pollard inquiry, will return to her role on Thursday. But her deputy, Stephen Mitchell, announced his retirement after publication of the report and will leave next year after 39 years with the BBC.Mitchell faced some of the toughest criticism in the report, with his decision to remove Newsnight’s Savile report from a list of sensitive BBC programmes described by Pollard as a “serious mistake”.Rippon and his deputy, Liz Gibbons, will move to new roles within the BBC, as will BBC Radio 5 Live controller Adrian Van Klaveren. He oversaw Newsnight’s disastrous 2 November report that falsely linked McAlpine to an allegation of child sex abuse after Boaden and Mitchell were “recused” from Savile-related coverage. Gibbons was acting editor of Newsnight when it broadcast the inaccurate McAlpine story.A second report – published by the editorial standards committee of the BBC Trust – on Newsnight’s McAlpine story revealed that three unnamed employees had been subject to disciplinary action following a “grave breach” of standards.In an email exchange with his programme’s star presenter Jeremy Paxman, revealed in report, Rippon admitted he “may be guilty of self-censorship. In the end I just felt … 40-year-old contestable claims about a dead guy was not a NN story and not worth the fuss”.Rippon stood by his decision not to pursue the original Savile investigation. Culture secretary Maria Miller said the report “raises serious questions around editorial and management issues at the BBC and I look to the [BBC] trust to help tackle these”.Pollard’s report said the “most worrying aspect” of the affair was that the BBC showed a “complete inability to deal with the events that followed”. There were harsh words about Rippon’s blog, published on 2 October, explaining why Newsnight dropped its Savile investigation in December 2011. The BBC was later forced to admit the blog contained factual inaccuracies and correct it – but this took nearly three weeks.”The preparation of the blog can only be described as chaotic. When clear leadership was required, it was not provided,” Pollard concluded. He said there had been a “complete breakdown in communication all the way up the chain, effectively from Peter Rippon to George Entwistle”.He added, at a press conference following the report’s publication: “There was an element of personal difficulty between the key personalities as well, that’s quite shocking in a way. Newsrooms can only operate on the basis of trust and mutual confidence and discussion. A lot of that was missing.”Lord Patten, the chairman of the BBC Trust, said he welcomed the report’s findings that there was no corporate cover-up of the Newsnight report, saying it was an allegation that went “right to the heart of the BBC’s reputation and integrity”. But he said the affair had revealed a “lack of professional camaraderie and a lack of collegiate behaviour which I find pretty surprising”.Responding to the report, journalist Liz MacKean, who worked with producer Meirion Jones on the shelved Newsnight report, said the BBC’s decision not to run it was a “breach of our duty to the women who trusted us to reveal that Jimmy Savile was a paedophile”Jones added: “The BBC pulled the investigation and ran the tributes into Sir Jimmy Savile that caused all this chaos and let down the victims and trust in the BBC – I hope the BBC now takes measures to make sure nothing like that ever happens again.”Tim Davie, the BBC’s acting director general until Lord Hall takes up the role in March, admitted the BBC had “taken a hit” in terms of public trust. The BBC said “proportionate” action would be taken against a “small number of individuals” as a result of the Pollard report’s findings.Asked why no one had been fired, Davie said: “I would say ‘go to the report, look at it calmly an
d think what is fair and proportionate. That is not to say there aren’t learnings for many people from this affair, but that doesn’t necessitate summary dismissals or disciplinary action.”Sir John Tusa, the former head of the BBC’s World Service and a former presenter of Newsnight, called for a root-and-branch review of the news and current affairs operation at the BBC. He blamed “over-management and over-bureaucratisation” at the corporation and added: “An organisation that allowed that sort of structure to grow up so that people can’t make decisions, has got something to do – it has got to be cleared out.”Entwistle, who quit after 54 days in the job following a much-criticised interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, said he was “pleased that the Pollard report makes it clear I played no part whatever in Newsnight’s decision not to broadcast the Savile investigation – just as I was not personally to blame in any way for the journalistic failures on Newsnight when it broadcast its erroneous report about the North Wales care home”.Former BBC director general Mark Thompson, now chief executive of the New York Times, was spared particular criticism in the Pollard report. It said there was “no reason to doubt” Thompson’s testimony that he had not focused on the controversy and had not read other media stories about the aborted Savile investigation.
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