Welcome to a live blog of George Entwistle’s appearance in front of the Commons culture, media and sport committee to answer questions about the Jimmy Savile scandal. Mr Entwistle will be answering questions about why Newsnight dropped an investigation, featuring witnesses who had not spoken to the police, into whether Jimmy Savile molested vulnerable young girls at a young offenders’ home as well as broader questions about the entertainer’s alleged abuse of minors on the BBC’s property in the 1970s and 80s.
12.36: That’s it for the MPs, with Entwistle taking a battering over failures in the system of decision making and his own command of the facts. The independence of BBC journalism and the hierarchical nature of the organisation seemed to frustrate the committee. The DG seemed to make life very difficult for Peter Rippon, the man who made the decision to drop the investigation, but there is still an inquiry going on into that which now seems a long way off – six weeks. Calling Rippon must surely be a next and necessary step for the committee.
12.34: Entwistle says the Pollard review into the Newsnight decision to drop the inquiry could take six weeks. Ben Bradshaw calls that “absurd” and says he must get a grip on the information.
12.32: Entwistle says he has found no evidence that there was management pressure on Rippon to drop the Newsnight investigation into Savile. It is a matter for the internal review, he says, which is actually about the first time he has relied on that defence.
12.28: Bradshaw points out that Entwistle was editor of Newsnight at the time of the “Gilligan scandal” which led to the death of Dr Kelly. “The BBC boss class has stuck to erroneous defence [of management by upward referral] and doesn’t listen to the grass roots.” Entwistle disagrees. He also says that he recognises danger of “risk aversion” in management and journalism.
12.24: Farrelly tries to slip in the key question: who sat on Rippon to make him change his mind? Entwistle replies: “Isn’t it possible he changed his own mind?”
12.23: Entwistle says that Rippon was “standing aside because of my disappointment with the blog” justifying his decision to drop the investigation.
12.21: The backdrop for these events in November and December last year was that Mark Thompson, the former DG, was about to announce his departure and people such as Entwistle and Helen Boaden were jockeying for position to succeed him.
Ravi Somaiya, London-based correspondent of the New York Times, tweets that a BBC insider told him this was very important to remember when thinking about the conversation the pair had at this time.
Post-Hutton, risk aversion [was] lauded, staffer said. Entwistle and Boaden “didn’t want to make a mistake which messed up their chances.”
12.17: Screenwriter and author Peter Jukes tweets:
If it’s culture of caution rather than coverup, then the DG set the culture post Hutton [the inquiry into the death of the government scientist David Kelly]
12.15: (A BBC culture of separating corporate interests from news journalism is hard for outsiders to understand, but is a dogma within the organisation. However, in this instance, it makes Entwistle sounds curiously lacking in curiosity about what could be a big reputational scandal.)
12.13: MPs find it hard to understand that Entwistle did not show more curiosity about what Newsnight was investigating and, when Helen Boaden did not report back to him, he did not seek to find out if the suspicions about Savile might render the tribute programmes inappropriate.
12.11: Philip Davies comes back to say Entwistle’s lack of interest or wanting to get involved seems to apply to everything in the BBC. An uncomfortable laugh from the back of the room. He says it is “absolutely astonishing” that Entwistle did.
12.09: Entwistle characterises his behaviour as a wish not to interfere; John Whittingdale says it was an “extraordinary lack of curiosity”. “I absolutely did not want to do anything that demonstrated excessive interest”, he says.
12.08: Collins expresses a broader concern that this shows how the BBC is a system that fails. Entwistle says no, it normally works to just refer problems up. This time, it didn’t. Collins says he “sounds a bit like James Murdoch” (which is certainly true of the idea that he didn’t ask and his underlings were free to operate as they saw fit).
12.05: Entwistle said there was no question in his mind about running the Savile tribute programmes – the main one was on Boxing Day – but he was never updated. He says he obviously regrets having showed the tribute programmes in light of subsequent events. He says he has been accused of intervening, but also of not taking enough interest. He says not he, but the system as a whole “was not quite right”.
12.03: He left that conversation assuming he would be updated. If someone had come to say it had stood up he would have to deal with the consequences. “The critical thing to me was the words ‘if it stood up…’,”Entwistle says. It wasn’t unusual to have stories about prominent individuals which might impact on schedules.
12.01: Entwistle said his recollection was that Boaden said of the investigation: “If it stands up, you may have to change your schedules.” He said thanks for letting me know and please update me. When she did not do so he inferred the inquiry had not “stood up”.
11.59: We are now moving on to what Entwistle knew when he was director of television in November/December 2011 when he was told by Helen Boaden that there was a Newsnight investigation pending which might cause him to scrap tributes to Jimmy Savile.
11.56: Rippon’s fate will await the review of the affair by former Sky News head Nick Pollard, Entwistle says. He won’t prejudge it.
11.55: Incidentally, this is an extraordinarily horrible experience to be Entwistle’s first public appearance as DG. Hard not to have some sympathy for him, but he wanted the job and horrible experiences go with the territory.
11.54: Entwistle says Rippon’s original and wrong blog was also seen by Steve Mitchell, deputy head of news. The correction to it was a “corporate production” including lawyers, which Rippon did not challenge.
11.51: Farrelly returns to the point that threatens the BBC’s current structure: “Are you an editor-in-chief or are you a managing director?” Entwistle says he is editor-in-chief and independence of editors like editor of Panorama is vital to the BBC.
11.48: Entwistle translates Farrelly’s “BBC at war” with Panorama attacking the BBC management last night into a “significant breakdown in communications”.
11.47: Farrelly accuses Entwistle of a “lack of curiosity” about the story of why Newsnight dropped the Savile investigation. An echo of what was said about News International’s attitude to phone hacking.
11.44: Tim Shipman, deputy political editor of the Daily Mail, tweets:
In summary, the top man at the world’s leading news gathering organisation failed to ask any relevant questions at all about anything
11.43: Farrelly has pinned the DG to an important discovery: Entwistle did not make the proper journalistic inquiries about Rippon’s blog on October 2 justifying the decision to drop the investigation 10 months earlier. Consequently, he himself relied, wrongly, on that blog to support Rippon’s decision.
11.41: He accepts a very basic point by Paul Farrelly, Labour MP and former Observer journalist, that had it not been for ITV, which picked up the Newsnight investigation, that the public might not have known anything about the Savile scandal.
11.40: Entwistle says he was “surprised” that there was no further investigation at Newsnight after Rippon decided not to go ahead with it. Entwistle says a statement by BBC News that an internal inquiry would not look at this decision was a “misprision”.
11.37 Tom Harper of the Evening Standard tweets:
Enthwistle: “Mr Rippon’s enthusiasm for the investigation was higher and then became lower.” MP: “We want to know why.”
11.35: As often happens in this sort of inquiry, MPs are becoming interested in how the chain of command works and whether the DG, who is also editor-in-chief of the BBC, should have been involved in knowing about this investigation, which could damage the BBC’s reputation. The broad answer is: maybe, but it didn’t happen on this occasion.
11.31: Back to the correction the BBC had to publish yesterday: Entwistle essentially says he relied on an editor having full grip on the facts. Hard to see Rippon surviving being publicly criticised by his boss like this. At present, he has “stepped aside” from his job.
11.29: After detailed inquisition by Bradshaw, Damian Collins, a Tory member of the committee, asks if Entwistle’s failure to ask questions of his juniors was symptomatic of his management. The DG understandably disagrees.
11.28: Bradshaw says that a “deputation” was led by the deputy editors of Newsnight to the deputy head of news Steve Mitchell about the decision to drop the Savile investigation. He says Entwistle has been “badly let down” by his staff at the head of news, clearly meaning Mitchell and Helen Boaden, the head of the department.
11.26: The MPs are focusing on Rippon’s saying in an email that he didn’t want to involve a “long political chain” in the decision, but the DG says he doesn’t know what the Newsnight editor meant by that.
11.23: Bradshaw is himself an ex-BBC News reporter, so there is both knowledge and perhaps bitter experience behind his strong questioning of the DG.
11.22: Bradshaw rightly points out that the main element of the editor Peter Rippon’s story about why he dropped it is that he said the police knew about all the witnesses interviewed by Newsnight, when at least one of them had never spoken to detectives.
11.20: He may regret using phrase “distance himself” but it is easy to see why, as Entwistle says, he didn’t want the Newsnight reporters to be interviewed by people in their direct chain of command. Bradshaw says he did not act decisively once they had been tipped off by the reporters involved that their editor had published an inaccurate account of why the investigation was pulled.
11.18: Entwistle says he asked a senior colleague to investigate Newsnight. He said he had to be able to maintain distance from allegations personally rather than get involved himself.
11.16: The MPs are now moving on to the question of why Newsnight dropped its investigation into Savile. Ben Bradshaw, former culture secretary and new Labour member of the committee, says it was a catastrophic mistake. Entwistle agrees that the investigation should have been allowed to run.
11.15: He tells MPs that the culture of the BBC has changed since the sexual harassment that was present in earlier years, but it has not changed enough. The BBC has brought in a QC to make sure it changes now faster and sufficiently to a level that is appropriate.
11.13: On a historical note, Entwistle says that the minimum age for guests on Top of the Pops was increased from 15 to 16 following a newspaper investigation. Ironically, given events of the past year, this was an achievement of the now-defunct News of the World.
11.11: Entwistle says he had no prior knowledge of the content of an interview with Karin Ward, who appeared on Panorama last night complaining she was abused by Savile. He saw it with the rest of us. Editorial independence being observed he says.
11.09: Looking at the Twitter feed of people reporting on this hearing, it is clear as crystal that Entwistle has been clear as mud over his numbers. Some think this eight to 10 number is about current sexual harassment cases, but others think it is historical cases from as long ago as the 60s. I side with the latter.
11.07: David Jordan, head of the editorial policy unit, says that any cases that come to their attention involving current staff are being handed straight to the police.
11.05: Entwistle now says the number of historical cases they are looking at is eight to 10. The five to 10 he mentioned seems to be the number of harassment cases he thinks an organisation of the BBC’s size would have each year. Bit confusing that.
11.04: The BBC’s own news Twitter account are obviously not finding this very comfortable either. Here is a recent tweet from its coverage of the committee.
11.02: Rotheram presses on whether there was a paedophile ring at work in the BBC. Entwistle says Savile’s “disgusting” activities were very successfully concealed. He compares it to the Sandusky case involving the head coach of the University of Pennsylvania football team. He says these kinds of scandals are “institutionally very difficult to discover”.
11.00: Entwistle says he regards the BBC’s child protection policies as “fit for purpose” as Labour’s Steve Rotherham takes over questioning. Not a phrase with a happy history, but the DG does not seem to be ahead of the game here.
10.58: Davies calls his lack of knowledge “lamentable”, especially that he doesn’t know enough about people currently facing harassment complaints, and asks if he is still maintaining what he said to Whittingdale at the start about handling the scandal well. Entwistle stumbles over an answer saying he believes the internal inquiries are the right thing to do.
10.56: Entwistle cannot answer who it was who decided to “bus in” young children to entertainment programmes in the 70s and 80s. He says it is part of the inquiry he has set up.
10.55: Davies says it is “unacceptable” that Entwistle cannot say how many active and serious allegations about sexual harassment more recently than the “historical” cases involving Savile and possibly others. The DG looks very uneasy as he has to admit that some people facing allegations are still employed by the broadcaster.
10.53: He doesn’t know the statistics and is not at ease telling the MP how he is coping with an ongoing investigation. He “ums” and “ers” as he says the BBC is looking at five to 10 serious allegations “over the whole period”.
10.52: Entwistle is struggling a little as Davies presses him on whether he is investigating current or past complaints that have been made against BBC employees. [apologies again but we are having technical problems here. Hope to restore service very soon.]
10.47: The correction was a matter of embarrassment and regret, he tells MPs. Philip Davies, the Conservative MP, takes up the cudgels and is immediately asking about the “culture” of abuse at the BBC when Savile was allegedly abusing girls.
10.46: The director general fights back saying “everybody” should be proud of the way Panorama has interrogated its own corporate situation in a way that is unmatched in the world. But he has to concede the past 24 hours have not been perfect handling, with a correction to the explanation originally given by the editor of Newsnight for his decision to drop the investigation in December 2011.
10.44:Entwistle states the obvious:
“We have taken longer to do things than in a perfect world we would have liked.”
10.43: Entwistle says that what Savile did is a matter of “grave regret” to him and can only be viewed with horror, but has just explained that his initial reaction to the scandal was informed by the police desire for him not to interfere in their work.
10.42: Mr Entwistle declines to accept the characterisation by veteran BBC reporter John Simpson of the Savile scandal as the most embarrassing for 50 years, nor that it was badly handled.
10.40: Sorry embarrassing technical glitch. Just getting it sorted as the committee starts its hearing.
10.37: Mr Entwistle will be trying to present a picture of a stable BBC which is in control of this investigation without compromising either the police inquiry or the two internal probes he has announced already. Tricky balance to be helpful without giving too much away.
10.34: People are now filing into the Thatcher Room in Portcullis House, the annex to Parliament where many select committee meetings are held. MPs, chaired by John Whittingdale, the Conservative MP, are in their seats.
10.32: Paul Waugh, political blogger at Politicshome.com, is on the spot and we aren’t sure that Mr Entwistle will enjoy his comparison:
10.30: If you want to follow the appearance before MPs, here is the link to the UK parliament’s webstream.
10.26: Here are the FT’s stories on the Savile scandal from Tuesday’s paper. The main story looks at how the BBC corrected its version of events in a public statement while there is also comment from John Lloyd and Simon Kuper.