BBC Trust head: Independence must remain

Oct. 24, 2012 at 11:00 AM
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LONDON, Oct. 24 (UPI) -- The BBC warned a British minister against seeming to question its independence after it was raked for axing a documentary on alleged abuse by one of its hosts.

The veiled warning Wednesday came after a parliamentary panel Tuesday criticized the BBC's director general, George Entwistle, for having a seemingly "extraordinary lack of curiosity" about the December cancellation of the documentary that revealed alleged sexual abuse by TV host Jimmy Savile, who died last year at 84, The New York Times reported.

Culture Secretary Maria Miller said in a letter to Lord Christopher Patten, chairman of the governing BBC Trust, that "very real concerns are being raised about public trust and confidence in the BBC," funded by viewer-paid license fees.

Patten responded that the BBC Trust takes seriously the allegations of Savile's sexual abuse of young girls and the need to maintain trust in the BBC. He also defended the BBC's freedom from political control, which is guaranteed by a royal charter, the Times said.

"I know that you will not want to give any impression that you are questioning the independence of the BBC," he responded to Miller.

The BBC ordered two inquiries, one into the BBC's culture and behavior when Savile hosted two prime-time shows that involved close contact with young people for about four decades. London Metropolitan Police said they were following 400 leads into his behavior involving more than 200 "potential victims," mainly young girls.

Entwistle told the House of Commons' Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee Tuesday "between eight and 10" current and former BBC staff members and contributors face allegations of child sexual abuse.

The BBC later said the exact figure was nine, but could not specify how many of those people still worked for the broadcaster, The Daily Telegraph reported.

Entwistle also told lawmakers an internal investigation into why the BBC's "Newsnight" current affairs program shelved an expose of Savile's alleged pedophilia wouldn't be ready for another six weeks, the Telegraph reported.

He blamed "Newsnight" editor Peter Rippon for canceling the report. Rippon stepped down from the program Monday. Entwistle also blamed the BBC culture.

"The culture and practices of the BBC seemed to allow Jimmy Savile to do what he did," Entwistle said. "Mr. Savile has prosecuted his activities -- his disgusting activities -- in a matter that was very successfully and skillfully concealed, and experts in pedophile behavior have pointed out that's often the case."

Former BBC Chairman Christopher Bland said any action must wait until the investigations are completed "because at the moment the noise of people jumping to conclusions is almost overwhelming and the truth is we don't know the truth," the BBC said.

Bland also noted, "If you followed up every rumor or allegation about the BBC as chairman or director general, you would have no time for your proper job."

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