Savile TV mystery: MP piles pressure on BBC DG Entwistle

‘Very surprising' a journalist like Entwistle would not want to know about Savile doc, says Whittingdale

BY Nigel Horne LAST UPDATED AT 13:47 ON Tue 16 Oct 2012

BBC Director-General George Entwistle will need to consider his position if it turns out he misled the public by claiming that he never asked about the content of a Newsnight investigation into Jimmy Savile, The Times reports today.

The paper was picking up on a Radio 5 Live interview with Tory MP John Whittingdale, chairman of the Commons Culture Committee, before whom Entwistle has agreed to appear a week from today.

Whittingdale raised a point made in this column yesterday – namely, why on earth did Entwistle not ask what the December 2011 Newsnight programme was about when he was responsible as BBC Head of Vision for two upcoming Christmas tributes to the late disc jockey?

"Surely," The Week asked yesterday, "Entwistle would have wanted to know - and had the right to know - if Newsnight was planning something that might overshadow these tributes?"

Whittingdale told Radio 5 Live that he found it "very surprising" for a journalist like Entwistle to show no curiosity about what Newsnight had on Savile - "particularly as he was commissioning the tributes".

The MP went on: "You would expect that if he [Entwistle] was told that Newsnight was looking at Jimmy Savile that he would have asked what it was about in order to avoid precisely the kind of embarrassment the BBC is now in...

"If it was shown that he was aware, particularly when he has told a press conference that he wasn't, then I think that would put him in a very difficult position.

"But I want to hear his account. That is one of the reasons I welcome his offer to come before the select committee, so we can ask him precisely these questions."

Whittingdale also said he was keen to know the truth about why Newsnight's editor, Peter Rippon, suddenly abandoned the Savile programme. The MP asked the BBC to "hurry up" its internal inquiry into this matter.

Rippon has always claimed the programme was dropped for editorial reasons, because the case it sought to make wasn't strong enough. But BBC insiders say they were "within days" of finishing a programme that contained "compelling" evidence against Savile.

Labour leader Ed Miliband has said the BBC should not be carrying out the Newsnight inquiry, and a second investigation into the general allegations of sex abuse against Savile, itself. "These are horrific allegations," Miliband told ITV's The Agenda. "In order to do right by the victims I don't think the BBC can lead their own inquiry." · 

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