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LONDON: Pressure on the BBC to address allegations its bosses covered up abuse claims levelled at one of its former TV stars mounted yesterday after British Prime Minister David Cameron said the broadcaster had serious questions to answer.
The premier’s intervention came as the editor of the internationally renowned media organisation’s flagship “Newsnight” show stepped aside after admitting he had given an “inaccurate” account of why the BBC had axed its own expose of the alleged abuse of underage girls by the late Jimmy Savile.
“These are serious questions. They need to be answered,” Cameron said of the cover-up allegations.
The scandal has engulfed the BBC at a time when it remains under pressure from its critics — which include much of the conservative media — who have queried whether it should still be funded via an annual licence fee paid by the public.
Critics, most notably media magnate Rupert Murdoch’s son James, have said the licence fee gives the BBC an unfair edge over private competitors. The BBC is already cutting its workforce and output after Cameron’s government imposed deep spending cuts and any loss of public trust could prove an issue in future discussions over funding and the
Savile, who died last year, was little known beyond Britain, the eccentric, cigar-chomping one-time DJ was one of the most recognised TV personalities on British television in the 1970s and 80s, hosting prime-time children’s and pop shows.
But Savile, who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth for his charity work and was famous for his garish outfits and long blonde hair, is now accused of raping and abusing girls as young as 12, some on BBC premises at the height of his fame.
Critics argue that the BBC covered up his alleged crimes which police say took place over six decades and were on an “unprecedented scale”.
“The developments today are concerning because the BBC has effectively changed its story about why it dropped the Newsnight programme about Jimmy Savile,” said Cameron when asked about the issue following a speech in London.
Veteran BBC foreign correspondent John Simpson said the organisation’s handling of the case was the worst crisis to hit the corporation in his almost 50-year career.
“I don’t think the BBC has handled it terribly well,” he told the “Panorama” programme in clips released by the BBC.
“All we have as an organisation is the trust of people, the people that watch us and listen to us and if we don’t have that, if we start to lose that, that’s very dangerous.”
The imbroglio has piled pressure on new BBC chief George Entwistle to explain what happened.
Entwistle only replaced Mark Thompson, the incoming New York Times Co’s chief executive, as BBC Director General in August.