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George Entwhistle: Did no one tell him why "Newsnight" was investigating Jimmy Savile?

Put yourself in the place of Peter Rippon. The editor of Newsnight knew in December 2011 that his journalists had not only done a good job, but an extraordinarily difficult job. Anyone who has tried to help a victim of rape knows that on-the-record testimony is hard to come by. Women, and indeed men, hide their humiliation. They fear that others will not believe them, or if they do, will think them sluts, who have no one to blame but themselves. In the worst circumstances, they do blame themselves.

Despite the obstacles, Liz Mac-Kean and her producer Meirion Jones tracked down ten abused women and persuaded them to talk. Their allegations were sensational. Jimmy Savile, BBC disc jockey and children's television star, was a child abuser and had been for decades. Savile had died in October 2011, and there was no risk of England's libel laws performing their customary role as censor for the wealthy. The risk of embarrassing Rippon's superiors, however, was great. Middle manager spoke unto upper-middle manager. Word of the investigation reached George Entwistle, who then bore the absurd title of "Director of BBC Vision". The visionary director was preparing to broadcast a hagiographic documentary that praised Savile's charitable work and love of children.

Entwistle, now the BBC's director general, was very careful indeed to say that no one told him why Newsnight was investigating Savile — because he could not have run his eulogy for the dirty old man if he had known. Instead, he said on the Today programme last month that the decision whether to broadcast was Rippon's alone: "He was not brought under any pressure from anybody in the management chain in his own division or elsewhere to make a different judgment than the one he made."

He just knew that his bosses were watching him. You can always find reasons to kill investigative journalism. By its nature, it is unsettling and controversial. Rippon explained that he suppressed his colleagues' story because Savile was dead and there was no "public interest" in dragging up old muck. He could not prove that the police and prosecutors had failed in their duty to pursue Savile. And so on and on he went. On one point, he was insistent. There was no connection between the BBC tribute to Savile and its corporate desire to avoid embarrassing questions and his decision to censor.

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robert landbeck
October 25th, 2012
2:10 PM
Whatever individual culpability there may be, What the BBC is responsible for, along with so much other media, is the uncritical cult of celebrity that is a plague and corruption on modern culture.

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