Sexual Abuse Scandal Rocks U.K.'s BBC Network

Oct 27, 2012



This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. The BBC, one of the world's most prominent broadcasters, is in an uproar over allegations that one of its most famous TV personalities was a pedophile who preyed upon youths who appeared on his shows. As NPR's David Folkenflik reports, the BBC is both investigating the actions of the late Jimmy Savile and fielding sharp questions about why it killed a documentary exploring such accusations late last year.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: To give you some sense of the role this guy played in British society, imagine someone who is part Captain Kangaroo, part creator of the Make A Wish Foundation and part Casey Kasem. He was beloved by millions of British children and their families, and knighted by Queen Elizabeth.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: He was a pop pioneer.

JIMMY SAVILE: (Unintelligible)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: And a multimillion pound charity fundraiser, a fixture for thousands of kids dreams to come true.

FOLKENFLIK: The BBC celebrated him in a documentary last December just weeks after his death at the age of 84.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: For 60 years, Jimmy Savile has been part of our lives, a great British eccentric.

FOLKENFLIK: And one more thing, that same guy, since his death, has been accused by several hundred women of sexually assaulting them as children. The BBC has apologized profusely. It's new director general, a combination CEO and editor-in-chief, George Entwistle, faced questions from members of parliament over incidents that occurred at the BBC itself.

GEORGE ENTWISTLE: We're looking at between five and 10 serious allegations relating to activities over the whole period in question, that Savile period.

FOLKENFLIK: It turned out police questioned Savile years ago. Now they say there's evidence he may have been one of the most prolific child predators in the country's history, that he sexually assaulted children at the hospitals and youth homes for which he raised money, too.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I think people need to know that there was another side of him and it was quite a dark side. He was a predator, really, a predator on young girls.

FOLKENFLIK: That woman told the rival British broadcaster ITN that Savile had raped her and it is an additional source of outrage that the BBC itself was poised to expose such allegations but didn't. A documentary developed by an investigative BBC team about Savile was killed late last year, and just why is a question of dispute. An executive producer said the case wasn't airtight, but now MPs and others are asking what the BBC's top leadership knew and whether they wanted the documentary killed given the plan to play tribute at Christmas time to their network star.

Among those facing questions is the most recent past director general of the BBC, Mark Thompson. He's scheduled to become the CEO of the New York Times Company on November 12th. A corporate spokesman, Robert Christie, says the Times retained full faith in Thompson. Meanwhile its reporters are covering the scandal aggressively. David Folkenflik, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.