BBC Newsnight Saga Takes Another Turn

The BBC Newsnight saga has taken another new and uncharted turn this weekend with the resignation of George Entwistle, its director general, and the ‘stepping aside’ of director of news, Helen Boaden, and her deputy, Stephen Mitchell.

This has hugely pleased certain tabloid editors and executives in the Murdoch publishing empire. It has, also, bought some breathing space for others, many in politics, who must have spent a week worrying whether they would be pushed into the paedophilia spotlight.

It seems the Jimmy Savile scandal has become as out of control as a vehicle being driven by an alcoholic partygoer.

The decision to pull the original Newsnight story was made on a sound legal and editorial judgement. Ms Boaden apparently told the team to treat the story as if Savile was alive and, by implication, if he were still alive, could he win a court case for libel? As the whole Savile item was effectively based on heresay and innuendo, none of which could be proved after so many years, it was deemed he could, and the item was shelved.

Even those brought in for questioning as part of the Met’s subsequent investigation into Savile, have been released on police bail. It must surely be questionable whether the CPS will ever feel confident enough to proceed to court without physical evidence, of any kind, being discovered.

While I can feel some sympathy for Mr Entwistle becoming the latest BBC ‘fall guy’, he never displayed the persona of a man in control of a crisis. His appearance before the commons select committee was dithering and unconvincing and he spent more time apologising for, than defending, his organisation.

When the latest Newsnight story, on the north wales care home, made the allegation that a senior politician had been abusing children (again on the say-so of a victim), all hell broke loose for Mr Entwistle. The politician was wrongly identified, although never openly exposed, after internet speculation, by media other than the BBC, as being Lord McAlpine, who had been Lady Thatcher’s party treasurer in the 1980s.

Last Friday, McAlpine went public, calling the allegation (that was technically never made) ‘wholly false and seriously defamatory’ and threatened to sue. Once again Entwistle was digging deeper into the hole he had already been making, by admitting he had not previously been aware the story was to be shown – even though most online national news sources had reported, by 1pm on the day, it would air that night.

The strangest thing, though, is that McAlpine is not alone in being mentioned on internet sites. Many other politicians are also named in articles for their alleged sexual interests and allegations of child abuse. None have so far bothered in pursuing legal action.

If other news organisations took time out from attacking the Beeb, perhaps the real truth on how Mr Savile was permitted to remain free for decades would finally be made public.

In the meantime, it seems we are still free to speculate on whether he had a funny handshake and enjoyed protection from on high.