The BBC’s new Director-General George Entwistle was on Tuesday grilled for two hours by MPs over allegations that the broadcaster covered up complaints of widespread sexual abuse of women and children by late Jimmy Savile, once one of its most pampered celebrity performers.
Mr. Entwistle was summoned before a special hearing of the Commons Culture Committee as the BBC struggled to defend its controversial decision to drop a report which investigated the Savile sex abuse scandal.
The report, based on his victims’ testimonies, was commissioned by Newsnight, BBC’s flagship current affairs programme. But it was axed at the last minute allegedly to avoid a clash with BBC’s Christmas tribute to Savile — two months after his death last October. The Editor of Newsnight has been forced to go on leave pending an investigation into his decision.
Mr. Entwistle told MPs that he did not believe the decision was taken under pressure from the BBC management but admitted that it had plunged the broadcaster into one of its worst crisis in recent times. He said the BBC was investigating up to 10 “serious allegations” involving current and past employees who may have known about Savile’s activities but took no action.
Savile, who dominated British television in the 1960s, 70s and the 80s, was alleged to have abused women and children often on the BBC premises.
Mr. Entwistle admitted that a “broader cultural problem” allowed Savile to get away.
“There is no question that what Jimmy Savile did and the way the BBC behaved in the years — the culture and practices of the BBC seems to allow Jimmy Savile to do what he did — will raise questions of trust for us and reputation for us,’’ he told the committee.
Police have launched a criminal investigation into allegations of sexual abuse by Savile at several public institutions, including hospitals.