This leaked BBC e-mail exposes Newsnight’s decision to spike Jimmy Savile story
WHY did the BBC’s Newsnight show cancel its investigation into Jimmy Savile? Newsnight, the BBC’s in-depth late-night news show, at first ignored the story that every other news organisation was leading with. On Newsnight for days there was no word on the Peado King who had attacked underage girls in his BBC Top of The Pops studio and beyond, as is alleged. When Newsnight fianlly featured the story, BBC Radio 4 DJ Eddie Mair was drafted in to host a chat. We were told that Newsnight did not run the item for “editorial reasons“. What reasons? Dunno. The show that likes to unleash Jeremy Paxman on politicians, to skewer them with hard questioning, sardony and heckling, left it that that. Newnight then produced the greatest line uttered on TV this year:
“The BBC declined to appear in his live discussion.”
That would be the BBC that was broadcasting the discussion on BBC editorial policy; the BBC where Newsnight editor Peter Rippon works. He still works there; he was, after all, editing this llive show he could not, erm, appear on.
Now The Times has seen leaked email.
Disclosure of the e-mail will increase suspicions that the Newsnight report was dropped last December because the BBC feared that it would clash with planned Christmas tributes to one of its biggest stars.
Of which there were no fewer than three.
The e-mail, dated December 7, reveals that Newsnight journalists had been “focusing on allegations of abuse” and not, as subsequently claimed by the BBC, on an alleged failure by police to investigate Savile properly. A senior BBC News press officer wrote the e-mail, which also reveals that the Newsnight investigation was so well advanced by December 7 that the press office was preparing “lines to take” to respond to questions after its planned broadcast.
It shows that the BBC was aware of the risk that the report would raise questions about why it had failed to expose Savile as a paedophile while he was alive.
In an e-mail to staff on October 5, BBC director General George Entwistle wrote after ITV had broadcast Exposure: The Other Side of Jimmy Savile.
“As is now well known, the BBC Newsnight programme investigated Surrey Police’s enquiry into Jimmy Savile towards the end of 2011 but decided not to go ahead with the broadcast. The decision was made honestly and honourably.”
You see. It wasn’t about the BBC. It was about the CPS and the police.
On October 4, David Jordan, the BBC’s director of editorial policy and standards, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme
“What they were looking at specifically was allegations that had been made to Surrey Police in 2007 and they had themselves received an allegation that the investigation conducted by Surrey Police in some way hadn’t been done properly. They looked into that allegation and actually it turned out not to be true.”
Peter Rippon wrote on October 2:
I decided we should pursue the story because of the nature of the allegations and because the key witness told us the police had investigated the claims but the case had been dropped on the grounds he was too old. This made the public interest case from a Newsnight point of view potentially strong. If we could establish some sort of institutional failure we would have a much stronger story.
Some sort of institutional failure. And the BBC is an…?
Some of the factors on the other side were: Newsnight is not normally interested in celebrity expose.
We had no evidence against the BBC. In her original statement our key witness said she was “perfectly certain the BBC had no idea whatsoever of the goings on”. However, I felt if we could prove the police or the CPS had let the women down in some way we should go ahead.
So. One woman’s story could not be used to nail the police and the CPS. What about the 10 alleged victims and witnesses the Newsnight journalists had interviewed?
We did establish the police had investigated the allegations in 2007. However, as the police would be obliged to investigate I wanted to check how they would respond to the allegation that it was not pursued because Jimmy Savile was too old. The CPS told us:
“The CPS reviewing lawyer advised the police that no further action should be taken due to lack of evidence.” The additional guidance noted stated. “As this is the case, it would not be correct to say that his age and frailty was the reason for no further action being taken.”
This statement specifically denied the allegation that the investigation was dropped because of his age. I felt it was significant the guidance was included and we had not established any institutional failure and I judged it weakened the story from a Newsnight perspective. I took the decision not to publish
From: Helen Deller
Sent: 07 December 2011 17:02
To: Peter Rippon; Meirion Jones
Cc: Liz MacKean; Liz Gibbons; Karen Rosine
Subject: Jimmy Savile story – Q&A etc
Had a quick chat with Liz Mackean earlier which reminded me that your Jimmy Savile piece is in the pipeline. Last time I talked with Meirion you were focusing on allegations of abuse with victims willing to speak on the record. Is this still the case? Aside from any promotional efforts, we may well need to do a bit of managing around this – despite such rumours circulating in the media for years. In addition to any press interest we should bear in mind how BBC complaints team respond. Is there a bit more of a synopsis available so I have a clearer idea of contents and also do you have any plans to share it with the other BBC outlets at all? With all this in mind I’ve started pulling together the below suggested lines to take considering the most obvious questions. Clearly, need your input here as you will have better thoughts, having put the story together. I will get legal ok – is it roger law on this one? Once sorted we can share with complaints team as well so they are prepared once we have tx date. As ever happy to chat it all through including any poss pre-transmission publicity
Jimmy Savile Expose
1) The allegations have been circulating for years why not run the story when Jimmy Savile was alive to respond? (OBVIOUSLY ASSUMING HERE….) Mr Savile was a very popular and well-love figure. The individuals were unwilling to go on the record prior to Mr Savile’s death for fear of reprisal and felt they would not be taken seriously…
2) If the individuals featured are credible why didn’t they report the abuse to the authorities before? (Could be similar to above answer but you will of course be better informed)
3) How did you corroborate the validity of your sources? As the country’s most trusted news provider the BBC has strict guidelines to ensure accuracy in our output, contributors’ stories are checked and
double checked as is any relevant documentary evidence. Newsnight adheres to these guidelines when investigating stories and we are confident of our journalism regarding this investigation.
4) Newsnight audiences are flagging isn’t this just a cheap shot, rehashing scandalous rumours to get more viewers? Not at all. Newsnight continues to attract good audiences and this year has seen some record breaking figures. We don’t simply chase stories because they will grab headlines but neither do we shy away from subjects because they be prove uncomfortable viewing. Newsnight gets viewers to think again about what is happening in the news agenda and this story is no different.
5) How is attempting to destroy a deceased popular celebrity’s reputation in the public interest? (need to be clear on editorial justification here – would it be along the lines of just because someone has a particular standing / persona it shouldn’t mean they cannot be held to account for inappropriate actions /behaviour….?)
Heds will roll…