LONDON (AP) — A BBC review has absolved senior executives of trying to bury an explosive story about one of its best-known children's television stars, saying management errors were to blame for the fact that a planned expose on pedophilia allegations against the late Jimmy Savile was canceled.
Institutional chaos and confusion — but not a cover-up — were to blame for the BBC's disastrous decision to scupper the "Newsnight" program, the review found Wednesday.
"The 'Newsnight' investigators got the story right," Nick Pollard, who led the review, told journalists following its publication. "They had found clear and compelling evidence that Jimmy Savile was a pedophile."
When the rival ITV network broadcast a similar expose in October about Savile, who died in 2011 at age 84, the BBC came under fire for both harboring an alleged serial sex abuser for decades and for killing its own story about him.
The scandal quickly metastasized, tainting the reputation of the BBC — the publicly-funded British broadcaster known worldwide for its news and entertainment divisions. It also prompted the resignation of the BBC's brand new director-general, George Entwistle, and raised questions about its former leader, Mark Thompson, who has since become chief executive at The New York Times.
The BBC's decision to cancel its initial investigation was particularly embarrassing, since it preceded a glowing tribute program honoring Savile's career. A host of misleading and contradictory statements about the investigation in the weeks that followed only deepened suspicion that senior executives had tried to bury the story to protect the corporation's reputation.
Pollard cleared the executives of that — the most serious — charge, saying that although the decision to scrap the program "was clearly flawed ... I believe it was taken in good faith."
Pollard had a harsh verdict on the BBC's behavior in the aftermath of the scandal, saying the corporation took more than a month to get its story straight in the midst of what he called "a complete breakdown of communication."
"There was a critical lack of leadership and coordination," he said, describing an atmosphere of recrimination, mistrust, and mismanagement. Pollard even quoted James Hardy, the then-BBC communications chief, as promising to "drip poison" about one of the "Newsnight" reporters he suspected of leaking stories to the press.
The review — which cost the BBC about 2 million pounds (roughly $3.3 million) — had harsh words for several executives in particular. One of those criticized, the BBC's Deputy Director of News Steve Mitchell, announced his resignation as the report was made public.