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Sexual Abuse Scandal Rocks U.K.'s BBC Network


This is WEEKEND EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. The BBC, one of the world's most prominent broadcasters, is in an uproar over allegations that one of its most famous TV personalities was a pedophile who preyed upon youths who appeared on his shows. As NPR's David Folkenflik reports, the BBC is both investigating the actions of the late Jimmy Savile - and fielding sharp questions about why it killed a documentary exploring such accusations, late last year.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: To give you some sense of the role this guy played in British society, imagine someone who is part Captain Kangaroo, part creator of the Make A Wish Foundation, and part Casey Kasem. He was beloved by millions of British children and their families, and knighted by Queen Elizabeth.


FOLKENFLIK: The BBC celebrated him in a documentary last December, just weeks after his death at the age of 84.


FOLKENFLIK: And one more thing - that same guy, since his death, has been accused by several hundred women of sexually assaulting them, as children. The BBC has apologized profusely. Its new director general - a combination CEO and editor-in-chief - George Entwistle, faced questions from members of Parliament over incidents that occurred at the BBC itself.

GEORGE ENTWISTLE: We're looking at between five and 10 serious allegations relating to activities, but over the whole period in question, that - the Savile period.

FOLKENFLIK: It turned out, police questioned Savile years ago. Now, they say there's evidence he may have been one of the most prolific child predators in the country's history; that he sexually assaulted children at the hospitals and youth homes for which he raised money, too.


FOLKENFLIK: That woman told the rival British broadcaster ITN that Savile had raped her; and it is an additional source of outrage that the BBC itself was poised to expose such allegations, but didn't. A documentary developed by an investigative BBC team about Savile, was killed late last year. And just why, is a question of dispute. An executive producer said the case wasn't airtight. But now, MPs and others are asking what the BBC's top leadership knew; and whether they wanted the documentary killed, given the plan to play tribute at Christmastime, to their network star.

Among those facing questions is the most recent past director general of the BBC, Mark Thompson. He's scheduled to become the CEO of the New York Times Co. on November 12th. A corporate spokesman, Robert Christie, says the Times retains full faith in Thompson. Meanwhile, its reporters are covering the scandal aggressively.

David Folkenflik, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik
David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.