Dyke backs BBC bosses as they brace for Savile Panorama

Oct 21, 2012
Nigel Horne

On eve of crucial Panorama, former DG claims it’s unlikely Newsnight received orders from above – but is he right?

FORMER BBC Director-General Greg Dyke claimed today it was very unlikely that a senior member of the BBC had ordered the editor of Newsnight to abandon an investigation into Jimmy Savile in December 2011 to save embarrassment.

Dyke, who resigned as DG in January 2004 after the Hutton Report criticised BBC reporting standards, said it was simply not in the culture of the BBC hierarchy to issue such dictatorial instructions.

He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that if you were to attempt to censor a current affairs team in such a way, they would simply refuse the order or leak the fact that they had been censored. It’s just not the way the BBC does things, he claimed.

Dyke and Marr were discussing the Panorama special, due to air tomorrow, which is investigating the mystery of why Newsnight editor Peter Rippon stopped a documentary being made about a police investigation into child sex abuse claims against Savile.

The fact that the documentary was planned for broadcast just before Christmas 2011, when two glowing tributes to the late entertainer were due to go out, has raised suspicions that it was abandoned in order to avoid embarrassment at the corporation.

The BBC’s recently-appointed Director-General, George Entwistle, was in overall charge of BBC TV content at the time. He has admitted that he was tipped off that Newsnight was preparing a programme about Savile, but claims he never asked what precisely it was about because he did not want to be seen to interfere in a BBC investigation.

While many media observers have found Entwistle’s argument “barely credible”, Dyke suggested that it was in keeping with BBC standards. The higher echelons would only ever stop a current affairs broadcast if they were advised that it failed to pass editorial standards or presented too great a legal risk, he said. Editorial decision-making is purposefully kept to programme editor level just so that top bosses are never encouraged to issue interfering edicts.

Dyke’s comments on BBC editorial culture are intriguing – for two reasons:

First, the majority of those who have derided Entwistle’s denial of any intervention are newspaper journalists. At privately-owned papers, the situation would doubtless be dealt with differently. Either there would be an edict from on high to cancel the documentary, or management would have to bite the bullet and be prepared to drop the upcoming tributes.

Second, Dyke’s glowing review of the editorial freedom enjoyed by BBC documentary-makers is at odds with comments reaching The Week. Programme-makers complain about the time they spend with managers justifying their work. And as for tomorrow’s Panorama special, members of the team are understood to have received warning letters from lawyers. Is Dyke fully aware of how BBC practice has changed post-Hutton?

That said, tomorrow’s show is expected to run longer than a normal Panorama and word is that its findings concerning paedophilia within the BBC will embarrass the corporation and certain individuals in particular.

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