Helen Boaden, the BBC Director of News, said the corporation’s treatment of the women who came forward to accuse Sir Jimmy Savile of sexual assault was “shaming” and described the “contemptuous” attitude which Newsnight held towards the rest of the BBC’s news operation.
Ms Boaden told the Pollard inquiry into the scandal which led to the resignation of George Entwistle, the BBC Director-General: “Newsnight is a bit like an old colonial power with a lot of old colonial power attitudes, refusing to accept a more modern world, with less resource, a digital challenge, and at times, with a sort of almost contemptuous or sneery attitude to the rest of the News group.”
Boaden, who will move to a new position as BBC Director of Radio, wrote a “despairing email” reflecting her view that “the skill it takes to run investigations, I don’t think Newsnight necessarily has.”
Peter Rippon had been brought as a more “collaborative” editor to reintegrate the “old fortress” Newsnight to the rest of the BBC News family.
Ms Boaden agreed with Peter Rippon, who told the inquiry that he was concerned to find out that the Newsnight interviews with Savile’s alleged victims had been conducted on the phone, by a junior researcher, attached to the programme on work experience and whom Rippon had never met.
Ms Boaden said “some of the methodology of this investigation frankly distressed me. I think it was very inappropriate for a junior researcher however good – and she was good – doing calls on the telephone about indecent assault. I just think it’s not a respectful way to treat people.”
Redacted material appears to show that one of the women interviewed had complained about her treatment. Ms Boaden said: “Those things are pretty shaming for BBC journalism.” It was also wrong to tell the women who came forward by text message that the investigation was being dropped.
Ms Boaden was “stunned” by claims made in an email by Jeremy Paxman, who said that it was “disgusting” for the BBC to “hang out to dry” Mr Rippon for what the presenter suspected was a “corporate decision” to drop the Savile investigation.
In a reply to the Newsnight presenter, Ms Boaden said she had “put her job on the line to defend Peter’s rights to make his own decisions as editor” and would continue to do so.
The high-level discussion was concluded prematurely because Paul Dacre, the editor-in-chief of the Daily Mail rang to invite Entwistle to lunch.
In an email to Stephen Mitchell, the deputy head BBC News, Ms Boaden said the row over the dropped Savile investigation “basically comes down to two boys fighting for control of a complex and complicated story which should have involved sensitivity as well as rigour, proper evidence, proper interviews and failing to manage the most basic elements, what was the story about? Their lack of precision on almost every front terrifies me.”
Ms Boaden said she disagreed with Entwistle, when at the height of the crisis, he announced that he planned to make an intervention which would prompt Rippon to resign, in order to protect the BBC.
She also moved her office because her desk was placed too close to Entwistle’s after an office reorganisation. “I had to put up a bit of a barrier. 'We're news, we're separate'… I'm simply going to move all my people to the 2nd floor to be apart from…a lot shouting down telephones from the corporate press centre and there just wasn’t enough separation.”