The BBC faced ridicule last night for publishing an ‘open’ dossier into the Jimmy Savile scandal that was covered in censor’s ink.
The corporation had repeatedly promised to be open and transparent about the material, which formed the basis of last year’s Pollard inquiry into the Savile crisis.
But there were accusations of a cover-up after large swathes of staff testimonies about the saga were blacked out.
Despite the redactions, which covered around 90 pages, stinging criticism remained – including Jeremy Paxman’s fury at the ‘contemptible’ way the BBC handled the affair.
He said it was ‘pathetic’ Newsnight had not tackled the Savile issue sooner, and said it was ‘common gossip’ at the corporation that the DJ ‘liked young…girls’.
But Paxman’s strongest criticisms of his bosses, including then director of news Helen Boaden, appear to be among hundreds of lines of evidence censored by the BBC.
Last night the BBC’s claims to be accountable descended into farce as acting director-general
Tim Davie refused to be interviewed by anyone except his own journalists.
Channel 4 News editor Ben de Pear said the only time he had come across a comparable situation was when he had tried to interview despots such as Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad of Iran and president Charles Taylor of Liberia.
Paxman himself is among several journalists who are said to be furious about the censorship of their testimonies.
The documents published yesterday were the raw evidence gathered in the inquiry by former Sky executive Nick Pollard which was set up last year to investigate suspicions Newsnight scrapped its Savile investigation to preserve Christmas tribute programmes to Savile.
Pollard reported his findings last December, concluding the ‘dark side’ to Savile was known at the BBC and that it descended into ‘chaos and confusion’ as the DJ’s past began to unravel.
The corporation repeatedly pledged to publish Pollard’s evidence in full, and yesterday some 3,000 pages of emails, interviews and submissions from 19 executives and journalists were made available online in what Mr Davie claimed was a bid to be transparent.
But around 90 pages bore black marks concealing what is likely to have been the most interesting and illuminating pieces of testimony.
Tory MP Rob Wilson said: ‘The full publication of these transcripts was central to the credibility of the Pollard Review.
‘How are people meant to know if Pollard reached the right conclusions, and the BBC’s response has been adequate, if some of the key evidence is suppressed?’
Last November, BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten told the Commons’ media select committee: ‘We will publish everything the Pollard review reports.’
And in December, he told reporters: ‘Our position is exactly as I have stated it again and again.
‘We will publish what we get from Mr Pollard, not only the annexes but other documents as well, and the only change will be redactions which are necessary for legal or other reasons.’
The BBC claimed it had been forced to redact some sentences because they were potentially defamatory – in other words, executives openly blaming each other for failings.
But one insider said: ‘It goes way, way beyond all the idea of just defamation, any criticism at all of management has been taken out.’
The evidence revealed that Lord Patten himself demanded that a segment of his own testimony, ‘if this was eventually published…be redacted’.
In the material that escaped the censor’s pen, the calamity that engulfed the BBC last autumn is laid bare.
Lord Patten said BBC managers were ‘faffing about’ during the crisis.
The transcripts also revealed former BBC director-general George Entwistle failed to ask if Savile was being investigated as a paedophile because he was distracted by ‘air kissing’ at a crucial meeting with the corporation’s head of news, Helen Boaden.
Last night Lord Patten said: ‘These documents paint a very unhappy picture, but the BBC needs to be open – more open than others would be – in confronting the facts that lie behind Nick Pollard’s report.’