George Entwistle, the BBC Director-General, tried to shake up the journalism culture at the BBC by offering the Corporation's Director of News Helen Boaden a fresh role in radio – but she turned the job down, prior to the outbreak of the crisis over Jimmy Savile, The Independent has been told.
Shortly after taking up his post in September, Mr Entwistle suggested that, as part of a series of management changes, Ms Boaden, who has run the BBC News division for eight years, replace radio chief Tim Davie, who has been appointed to lead the commercial arm BBC Worldwide. Shortly afterwards both Entwistle and Boaden became embroiled in the Savile crisis which now threatens both of their positions.
Leading BBC journalists, speaking privately yesterday, called for radical reform of the BBC's News division, claiming it had become afraid of running difficult stories. "There is a general timidity about broadcasting anything that's controversial," said one senior figure. "We have got to have a sense of devilment and we don't have that at all."
There were calls for a complete shake-up of the senior news executive team. "The challenge is to find someone who can revivify the whole thing and give it a spurt of life," said one. "The entire culture of news has got to change, it's got to start again."
There was talk of a sense of "anti-journalism" that had been allowed to creep into the BBC and a sense of incredulity that senior news figures, including Entwistle, appeared to have assumed that Newsnight's investigation into Savile would not make it to air.
Rob Wilson, the MP for Reading East who has raised a series of concerns over the BBC's handling of the Savile crisis, said that it was also clear that the BBC's editorial policy unit led by David Jordan wielded "enormous power", adding: "Any journalist within the BBC will tell you how it's a big barrier to get stories on air or even close to air sometimes... It has become a very safety-first environment." BBC staff complained yesterday that they are required to take endless courses on legal issues and journalistic ethics.
Boaden, an award-winning journalist in her own right, became Director of News in 2004 in the wake of the Hutton inquiry when the BBC was under intense pressure over its journalistic standards. One correspondent remarked: "Since Helen Boaden came in there have not been as many crises in BBC News. She has been a fairly safe pair of hands."
The BBC said it had no comment on any potential change in roles. A spokeswoman said: "BBC news is proud of its long and distinguished record of producing strong investigative journalism including recently Panorama's Fifa's Dirty Secrets and Winterbourne View exposés."