George fails to fix it: BBC boss leaves MPs incredulous
DG still can’t explain his lack of interest in Newsnight probe – and now says it should not have been shelved
GEORGE ENTWISTLE was accused by MPs today of lacking a "grip" on the BBC after he failed to answer key questions to their satisfaction during a damaging two-hour grilling into the Jimmy Savile child abuse scandal.
The Director-General astonished MPs by repeatedly insisting he could not remember key conversations, and failing to give answers to questions such as who at the BBC had allowed children to be taken back to Savile’s dressing-room where they were abused.
Entwistle also appeared to heap the blame for the cancellation of Newsnight’s December 2011 Savile investigation on editor Peter Rippon.
The DG has ordered an independent inquiry into Rippon’s controversial decision, to be headed by former Sky News boss Nick Pollard. But given his comments today, he appears to have already decided that Rippon is culpable, telling members of the cross-party Culture Committee that the Newsnight investigation should have been allowed to go ahead.
"I came away from [last night’s] Panorama firmly of the view that [the Newsnight] investigation... should have been allowed to continue," Entwistle said.
"On the basis of what I now know I am surprised nothing further happened with it... There was clearly some good journalistic material here. Even if there was not the prospect of an immediate transmission, further investigation would have been appropriate."
Once again, Entwistle sought to distance himself from the decision to cancel the Newsnight programme. He admitted again that the BBC’s head of News, Helen Boaden, had told him that Newsnight was preparing a Savile programme, knowing that Entwistle, then head of BBC Vision, was planning two tributes to the late entertainer in the upcoming Christmas schedule.
When Entwistle rolled out his familiar refrain that he thanked Boaden for letting him know, but decided to ask no questions about the Newsnight programme for fear of being seen to interfere, the MPs were incredulous.
The DG said: "I think she was preparing me to consider changing the schedule."
Members of the committee said they were found it "astonishing" that the DG did not ask her any further questions.
"This was a determination to avoid undue interest," Entwistle responded.
Tory MP Philip Davies, a former Asda executive, caused laughter when he told Entwistle: "It seems the wish not to show undue interest applies to everything at the BBC judging by your evidence."
It seems likely the MPs will now want to call Helen Boaden to see if she can throw any light on the subject. They have already said that they won’t call Peter Rippon until after Nick Pollard’s inquiry has reported.
How did Entwistle do overall? Not brilliantly. He may be a respected former journalist but he came across as a slippery civil servant.
A group of veteran BBC executives asked afterwards by Sky’s Adam Boulton whether Entwistle’s job was on the line, responded unanimously: "It’s not off the line".
But if Entwistle has his way, judging by today’s evidence, it will be Rippon who takes the fall for this fiasco.