Savile scandal: 'Horror' for BBC boss

Director-general comes under pressure from MPs.

A sexual abuse scandal shaking the BBC has broadened, with the broadcaster saying that it is investigating claims of sexual abuse and harassment against nine staff members and contributors, in addition to the late disgraced children's TV host Jimmy Savile.

The BBC has been rocked by allegations that Savile, who died last year, abused underage teens over several decades, sometimes on BBC premises.

Some of the alleged victims have accused other entertainers and BBC staff of participating in abuse during the 1960s, 70s and 80s.

The broadcaster said some of the alleged offences dated to years ago, but the victims had all come forward since the Savile scandal erupted. Some of the cases have been passed to police while others are being investigated internally.

BBC boss grilled by MPs

Overnight the head of the BBC defended the broadcaster's response to allegations of sex abuse by late TV star Jimmy Savile, but admitted its reputation for integrity had taken a hit.

Director General George Entwistle, facing tough questioning from British lawmakers, said the world's biggest public broadcaster regretted dropping a television probe into allegations of widespread abuse of underage girls by Savile.

But Entwistle, who only took over the position this year, denied that pressure from BBC top brass had forced flagship current affairs television show Newsnight to shelve its investigation late last year.

"There is no question in my mind this is a very grave matter indeed," Entwistle told parliament's Culture, Media and Sport Committee.

"One cannot look back on it with anything other than horror."

Savile, a DJ who rose to become one of the biggest and most distinctive personalities of BBC television from the 1960s until the 1980s, died last October aged 84.

Two weeks ago the BBC's commercial rival ITV aired allegations by several women about the entertainer, who was known for his shiny tracksuits, gold jewellery and ever-present cigar.

Newsnight editor Peter Rippon announced on Monday that he was "stepping aside" while the BBC carries out an inquiry into why the Savile item was axed.

Entwistle - who is himself is under pressure because he decided to proceed with tribute shows about Savile over Christmas - said on Tuesday that the Newsnight investigation should not have been dropped.

He admitted that the BBC's head of news, Helen Boaden, had told him about the Newsnight investigation in December last year, but said he did not pursue it because he did not want to be seen as wielding editorial influence.

'No BBC cover-up'

Entwistle denied any BBC cover-up and said Rippon had decided to cancel it "on his own account".

"I've been able to find no evidence... that any kind of managerial pressure was applied," Entwistle told lawmakers.

The director general said he had asked Rippon to step aside because of inaccuracies in a blog post the Newsnight editor had written this month explaining his decision to shelve the Savile investigation.

'Questions of trust'

Lawmaker Philip Davies said it was "absolutely astonishing" Entwistle had not asked more questions at the time about why Rippon had dropped the Newsnight investigation.

Asked if the scandal would affect the broadcaster's reputation for integrity, Entwistle said there was no question that it would "raise questions of trust".

But he defended the BBC's reaction to the scandal, insisting the organisation was working closely with the police and that its own twin internal probes would thoroughly investigate what happened.

He also said the BBC should be "incredibly proud" of its decision to air a special episode of its main investigative television show "Panorama" dealing with the Savile scandal on Monday night.

The show included an interview with a lawyer for some of Savile's alleged victims who said there was evidence of a paedophile ring operating within the BBC during the star's heyday in the 1960s and 1970s.

The BBC is investigating up to 10 "serious allegations" involving past and present employees, he added.

He insisted the BBC has much stronger procedures in place for dealing with sexual harassment and child protection than it did in the 1960s and suggested there was less of a "culture of awareness" at the time of the alleged abuse.

Prime Minister David Cameron expressed concern on Monday over the BBC's handling of sex abuse claims against Savile and accused the BBC of "changing its story."

Entwistle, 50, who is himself a former Newsnight editor, has been the BBC's director general only since July.

Some lawmakers are calling for his predecessor Mark Thompson, who is due to start as chief executive of The New York Times in November, to face a similar grilling in parliament.

British police have launched a separate criminal investigation into the alleged abuse by Savile.

Scotland Yard says it believes there may have been as many as 200 victims, and that it is investigating suspects linked to Savile who are still alive.

- AFP

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