A leaked BBC email from a senior press officer to Newsnight journalists today reveals how close the BBC was to broadcasting its investigation into Jimmy Savile child abuse claims last December.
Newsnight journalists spoke to ten sources to corroborate child abuse claims against Savile. But editor Peter Rippon decided not to run the story because, he revealed earlier this month in a blog post, there was no evidence of "institutionalised failure" on the part of the police and CPS who decided not to act on the allegations.
The email from press officer Hellen Deller to Peter Rippon, Meirion Jones, Liz MacKean, Liz Gibbbons and Karen Rosine talked about the Savile piece being "in the pipeline" and asked whether the focus was still "victims willing to speak on the record".
She said: "Aside from any promotional efforts, we may well need to do a bit of managing around this – despite such rumours circulating in the media for years."
She asked for a fuller synposis of the programme to help brief the BBC complaints team and asked whether there were plans to share the story with other BBC outlets.
In view of the obvious potential fall-out from the Savile story, Deller had even gone as far as producing a list of questions that the BBC might receive about it and suggested answers.
The fact that a press offiicer was so involved in the story suggests that it was at an advanced stage when the decision was taken to pull it.
She concludes: "As ever happy to chat it all through including any possible pre-transmission publicity."
Former head of Sky News Nick Pollard has been brought in by the BBC to investigate whether there were any failings in the BBC's management of the Newsnight investigation.
Because BBC director of news Helen Boaden will be questioned as part of that probe, she will not be involved in any BBC Savile stories until it has concluded.
According to The Guardian, the BBC is looking to air a Panorama documentary looking at the Savile scandal on Monday if it can get it finished in time.
Here is the press officer's Jimmy Savile Q and A as published in The Times today:
Jimmy Savile Expose1) The allegations have been circulating for years why not run the story when Jimmy Savile was alive to respond? (OBVIOUSLY ASSUMING HERE….)Mr Savile was a very popular and well-love figure. The individuals were unwilling to go on the record prior to Mr Savile’s death for fear of reprisal and felt they would not be taken seriously…2) If the individuals featured are credible why didn’t they report the abuse to the authorities before? (Could be similar to above answer but you will of course be better informed)3) How did you corroborate the validity of your sources? As the country’s most trusted news provider the BBC has strict guidelines to ensure accuracy in our output, contributors’ stories are checked and double checked as is any relevant documentary evidence. Newsnight adheres to these guidelines when investigating stories and we are confident of our journalism regarding this investigation.4) Newsnight audiences are flagging isn’t this just a cheap shot, rehashing scandalous rumours to get more viewers? Not at all. Newsnight continues to attract good audiences and this year has seen some record breaking figures. We don’t simply chase stories because they will grab headlines but neither do we shy away from subjects because they be prove uncomfortable viewing. Newsnight gets viewers to think again about what is happening in the news agenda and this story is no different.5) How is attempting to destroy a deceased popular celebrity’s reputation in the public interest? (need to be clear on editorial justification here – would it be along the lines of just because someone has a particular standing / persona it shouldn’t mean they cannot be held to account for inappropriate actions /behaviour….?)