In Britain, the BBC, and a beloved late television presenter, are shrouded in scandal
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If you're like us, lots of headlines about some BBC television personality named Jimmy Savile and a giant scandal have been crossing your feed and you haven't decided yet to jump down another U.K. media-scandal rabbithole, after all that phone-hacking reading you've had to do.
But today might be a good day to start.
Savile, who died last year at the age of 84, is perhaps best known to Americans as the long-time host of "Top of the Pops," the British pop music show; but to Britons Savile was better known as the host of a Saturday tea-time show called "Jim'll fix it" in which Savile read wish-letters out loud, interviewed the subjects (mostly children and young adults), and then did what he could to make their wish come true, Oprah-like.
That's what lends the extra element of creepiness to a posthumous police investigation into accusations he sexually abused dozens of underage girls; the investigation is also set to determine whether the BBC tried to cover it up.
The New York Times' Sarah Lyall gets you on track with today's article about how the BBC "failed to investigate rumors or take seriously accusations about his behavior at the time" and "canceled a segment about the allegations that was scheduled to be broadcast last December on 'Newsnight,' an influential evening current-affairs program."
The BBC's response to the Times:
The BBC has said that the “Newsnight” segment was canceled not out of concern about the corporation’s reputation, but for “editorial reasons,” because the accusations could not be substantiated. But on Friday, its new director general, George Entwistle, announced that an independent panel would investigate whether any BBC executives improperly pressured “Newsnight.”
And guess what? The director general of the BBC at the time the segment was canceled was Mark Thompson, the incoming president and chief executive officer of The New York Times Company. In a letter sent to members of Parliament on Friday, a BBC spokeswoman said neither Mr. Thompson nor Mr. Entwistle was involved in the “Newsnight” decision.
Meanwhile, The Guardian reports that a senior BBC staff member questioned Savile about his behavior some 20 years ago:
As police revealed the D.J. and television presenter's alleged catalogue of child sex abuse could include at least 60 victims, Derek Chinnery, BBC Radio 1 controller from 1978 to 1985, said he had questioned Savile directly about the rumours.
The scandal has grown since ITV screened a documentary on 3 October in which five women alleged they were abused by the late broadcaster.
Chinnery, who was Savile's boss at Radio 1, told BBC Radio 4's Broadcasting House: "I asked: 'What's all this, these rumours we hear about you Jimmy?' And he said: 'That's all nonsense'. There was no reason to disbelieve [him]."
And in The Telegraph, a former BBC Trust chairman, Sir Michael Lyons, is quoted as saying the focus on the BBC is the product of "hysteria":
“There is no doubt about the seriousness of the allegations against Jimmy Savile and they need to be taken seriously and quite properly.
“It clearly has consequences for the BBC but frankly I think the consequences spread well beyond the BBC.
“There may well be lessons here to learn about the way that we tolerate the behaviour of predatory men, particularly when they are in powerful positions and there may be lessons to learn, I’m sure there are, about the licence that we sometimes collectively allow to celebrities.”
He said he understood why there would be an “intense focus” on the “national broadcaster” but added: “As you know there is a degree of hysteria in the extent to which it is focused exclusively on the BBC rather than being seen as something of much wider consequence.
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The Times is adding a Portuguese-language online Brazil edition. [NYT/Media Decoder]
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Heidi N. Moore has joined The Guardian's U.S. team. [The Guardian]
Ad Age has named Josh Tyrangiel editor of the year. [Ad Age]
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The recently-axed editor-in-chief of Spin has a new gig at TV Guide. [Fishbowl NY]