BBC chief grilled on sex abuse scandal
BBC director general George Entwistle leaves after appearing before Culture and Media Committee in London.The head of the BBC said yesterday that the scandal over alleged sex abuse by late star Jimmy Savile is “a very grave matter” that will affect the organization’s reputation for trust and integrity.
Director General George Entwistle, facing tough questioning from British lawmakers, said the BBC was doing everything in its power to find out how Savile was apparently able to carry out widespread abuse.
But he denied that the world’s biggest public broadcaster put pressure on the flagship current affairs television show “Newsnight” to drop an investigation into the sex abuse claims late last year.
“There is no question in my mind this is a very grave matter indeed,” Entwistle told parliament’s Culture, Media and Sport Committee.
“One cannot look back on it with anything other than horror, frankly.”
The British broadcaster is facing one of the biggest crises in its long history over accusations it axed its own investigation into sexual abuse by former presenter Jimmy Savile as part of a wider cover-up.
While Savile was little known beyond Britain, the eccentric, cigar-chomping one-time DJ he was one of the most recognized personalities on British television for decades, hosting prime-time shows.
Entwistle, who only took charge at the BBC in August, appeared before the committee just a day after Prime Minister David Cameron said the BBC had serious questions to answer.
Police are investigating allegations that Savile, who died last year, abused women, including girls as young as 12, with some of the attacks taking place on BBC premises.
Asked if it was likely that sexual abuse had been widespread at the BBC, he said that it is too early to say whether it was endemic.
“Newsnight” editor Peter Rippon announced on Oct. 22 that he was “stepping aside.”
The BBC has admitted that a blog post by Rippon, in which he said the Savile investigation was dropped for editorial reasons, was “inaccurate or incomplete in some respects” and had been corrected.
Entwistle defended the BBC’s reaction to the scandal, insisting that the broadcaster was working closely with the police.
“I’ve been able to find no evidence ... that any kind of managerial pressure was applied. The decision was made by Peter Rippon on his own account,” Entwistle said.
Entwistle came under fire by lawmakers on the panel for apparently not knowing how many sexual harassment cases the BBC is currently facing. Scotland Yard said it believes there may have been as many as 200 victims, and that it is investigating suspects linked to Savile who are still alive. British police have launched a separate criminal investigation into the alleged abuse by Savile.
Compiled from AFP and Reuters stories by the Daily News staff.