Pollard review: edited witness statements a 'PR disaster'

BBC censured for redacting Paxman – but presenter reveals Savile's paedophilia was 'common gossip'

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 22:The BBC's Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman leaves BBC Broadcasting House on October 22, 2012 in London, England. A BBC1 'Panorama' documentary, to be broadcast l
(Image credit: 2012 Getty Images)

JEREMY PAXMAN told the Pollard Inquiry that it was "common gossip" at the BBC that the late DJ Jimmy Savile liked young girls. He also attacked BBC management, referring to senior staff as "these bloody people".

But he did acknowledge that he had seen no evidence to persuade him to take seriously the rumours that the late Top of the Pops presenter was a paedophile.

Paxman's statement was included in an estimated 3,000 pages of transcripts and witness statements published today in the wake of December's review by former Sky News chief Nick Pollard into the reasons why Newsnight shelved its December 2011 investigation of Savile.

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Pollard reported his finding in December 2012, saying Newsnight's decision to drop its programme was "seriously flawed" but had been taken "in good faith". Today, the BBC finally published the evidence put before Pollard – and there is already anger in some quarters that much of it has been blacked out.

More than three per cent of the documents are redacted. For example, entire questions and answers in the 75-page transcript of Paxman's statement are blacked out.

The BBC claims the redactions are for legal reasons – but some observers say the corporation is saving the blushes of senior executives ridiculed by Pollard's witnesses.

For Toby Young, the heavily redacted evidence published today is another "PR disaster" which will not help restore the corporation's reputation. "It will just compound the damage already done by the Newsnight/Savile fiasco," Young writes in the Daily Telegraph.

"That's bad news for any number of reasons, but foremost amongst them is it will make it harder for the organisation's journalists to carry out their jobs in future. After all, how can the BBC legitimately demand complete transparency and full disclosure from public employees, including politicians, if it refuses to be held to the same standard itself?"

The corporation's acting director-general, Tim Davie, claimed said witness statements had had to be edited to avoid being defamatory. "This is not about protecting the BBC's reputation. It was simply about external legal advice," he told the BBC.

But Lord McAlpine, the former Conservative party treasurer wrongly implicated in a paedophile ring by Newsnight last year, told the The Daily Telegraph: "Of course they should publish them in full, the BBC is not the secret service for Christ's sake. There's no reason for holding back - what Jeremy Paxman said should be printed. It should be explained to people."

BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten admitted that the Pollard review documents painted a "very unhappy picture" of the corporation. "The BBC needs to be open - more open than others would be - in confronting the facts that lie behind Nick Pollard's report," he said.

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