The predatory pedophilia of a former British radio and TV celebrity has shaken the BBC to its foundations, as the broadcaster struggles to reconcile itself to charges of mismanagement and allowing an "unacceptable culture" of sexual abuse to go unchecked for decades.
Jimmy Savile, who died in October 2011 two days before his 85th birthday, rose to fame in the 1960s as a dance-hall promoter and later BBC radio disc-jockey. In the 1970s, 80s and 90s, he was a regular fixture of the BBC TV schedules, where his popular, family-oriented shows attracted top ratings. He was honored by the queen, networked with politicians and celebrities and was feted for his charity fundraising and good works.
But in the months since Savile's death, a catalog of accusations has emerged, stretching from 1959 to 2006, in what London's Metropolitan Police described as "abuse on an unprecedented scale."
It has also come out that Savile's sexual exploitation of children may have been known to some people at the time, including former colleagues and managers at the BBC, who failed to report or act upon the rumors and accusations. What's more, it has been revealed that in late 2011, the BBC axed an investigative news item into Savile's pedophilia at the same time that it was planning a Christmas tribute program to him.
The head of the BBC denied on Tuesday helping to cover up the allegations but accepted that it had been damaged by the crisis.
In a BBC TV documentary broadcast Monday night, Panorama investigated the original news item, which was to have aired on BBC TV's Newsnight program until it was shelved by the Newsnight editor.
By accessing the original Newsnight video and interviews, Panorama drew a portrait of Savile as a shrewd, calculating and devious predator who preyed on vulnerable young people. Among the accusers were some victims who said Savile had sexually abused them in his BBC dressing room after he recorded his TV shows.
Panorama also looked into the circumstances that led to the Newsnight item being dropped.
Suggestions that it was dropped as part of a BBC cover-up were refuted in a blog by the program's editor, Peter Rippon, who wrote, "I was told in the strongest terms that I must be guided by editorial considerations only and that I must not let any wider considerations about the BBC affect my judgement."
However, on Monday Rippon "stepped aside" from his post as the BBC issued a correction to his blog, in which it became clear that Rippon had made factual errors about what the BBC had known. In particular, the correction clarified that there were "some allegations of abusive conduct on BBC premises."
'Broader cultural problem'
BBC director-general George Entwistle was quizzed on Tuesday about all of this by a parliamentary select committee into the BBC's handling of the affair.
Although he denied the BBC was facing "its worst crisis in 50 years", Entwistle said Savile's alleged behavior had been possible only because of a "broader cultural problem" at the BBC.
When pressed by parliamentarians for detail, Entwistle told them, "We are looking at between five and 10 serious allegations relating to activities over the whole period in question, the Savile period." He added the allegations included claims of sexual harassment made against people still working at the BBC, but could not say how many.
The director-general's grilling created an impression of BBC management out of touch with the broadcaster's day-to-day running.
Instead of evidence of management interference in editorial matters, committee members described themselves as "astonished" at the "lack of curiosity" exhibited by senior management into rumors and "water-cooler" revelations.
The BBC has announced two independent reviews into the Savile affair: one looking at how the abuse he is accused of could have been allowed to happen, and the other looking into the circumstances of the shelved Newsnight item.
Meanwhile, the police enquiry into Savile's activities has developed into a criminal investigation which has yet to establish the full extent of his crimes. Police are following more than 400 lines of enquiry involving more than 200 potential victims.
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