THE EDITOR OF Newsnight who made the now controversial decision to drop an investigation into disgraced former star Jimmy Savile is “stepping aside”, the BBC has said today.
The announcement about Peter Rippon comes just hours before a BBC Panorama special broadcasts new revelations about the controversial decision to drop a Newsnight item that explored allegations of sexual abuse carried out by the now deceased Savile over a 40 year period.
On the programme, one of the producers behind the dropped item claims that he warned Rippon that the corporation was at risk of being accused of a cover-up.
Rippon denied any accusations of a cover-up when he wrote a blog about the decision earlier this month but the BBC says today that the blog is “inaccurate or incomplete in some respects” and has issued a correction.
A statement said: “On the basis of material now available, it is apparent from information supplied by the Newsnight editor and programme team, that the explanation by the editor in his blog of his decision to drop the programme’s investigation is inaccurate or incomplete in some respects.
A police investigation has so far disclosed that the former Jim’ll Fix It presenter, who died last year, may have sexually abused dozens of young people over four decades with some of the abuse carried out in BBC buildings.
A team of Newsnight reporters had been working on a story about Savile’s alleged paedophilia last year but it was later dropped.
The BBC is now facing allegations that it pulled the investigation because it would have clashed with a tribute programme to the entertainer that aired last Christmas.
Earlier this month an ITV programme exposed the Savile allegations with it believed he may have had in excess of 200 victims.
The Telegraph reports that the documentary will raise questions about the role of BBC director general George Entwistle – who was then the director of BBC Vision – who was told that the BBC might have to change Christmas schedules if the Newsnight item was broadcast.
The programme was eventually shelved on the direction of Newsnight editor Peter Rippon who has denied he was put under management pressure.
However according to one reporter interviewed on Panorama Rippon had an “abrupt change” of heart having initially been enthusiastic about broadcasting the item about Savile.
Veteran BBC correspondent John Simpson, who has worked with the corporation since the 1960s, tells the Panorama programme that it “is the worst crisis” that he can remember in his time at the corporation.
“I don’t think the BBC has handled it terribly well,” he says. “”I mean, I think it’s better to just come out right at the start and say we’re going to open everything up and then we’re going to show everybody everything.”
Amid accusation of a cover-up, the BBC has already announced an independent probe into its “culture and practices” during Savile’s time at the broadcaster.
A review of Newsnight’s management of the Savile story is also being carried out by Nick Pollard, the former head of Sky News. The BBC said today that it “will work with the Pollard Review to assemble all relevant evidence to enable the review to determine the full facts”.
Jimmy Savile: What the BBC knew will be broadcast on BBC One at 10.35pm tonight.
- with reporting from AFP