Documents portray BBC as dysfunctional, squabbling organisation

Last Updated: Sun, Feb 24, 2013 04:02 hrs

London: A senior press officer for the British Broadcasting Corporation darkly volunteers to "drip poison" to discredit a BBC reporter he suspects of having leaked embarrassing information. The woman in charge of the corporation's news divisions accuses Newsnight, a public-affairs programme she oversees, of being out of touch and "sneery" toward rival BBC shows.

And, as investigators seek to uncover why the corporation cancelled a Newsnight broadcast alleging that a once-beloved BBC personality who had recently died had in fact been a serial pedophile who preyed on vulnerable girls, everyone involved is scrambling to deflect blame onto someone else.

These and other unflattering details about the inner workings of Britain's public broadcaster emerged Friday when the BBC released some 3,000 pages of internal documents — e-mails, memos and transcripts of interviews — from an external investigation into why the programme, about the BBC presenter Jimmy Savile, had been cancelled.

In all, the documents painted a picture of a highly dysfunctional, top-heavy organisation divided into discrete, rival factions, and weighed down by mistrust, poor communication, buck-passing and internecine squabbling.

There were no startling revelations; all those came out in the so-called Pollard report into the Savile affair, which was published in December and which concluded that there were deep structural problems in the BBC. But the supporting documents released Friday shed light on just what Nick Pollard, who prepared the report, meant by his scathing critique, said John Whittingdale, chairman of the House of Commons culture and media committee.

"It demonstrates the extent of unhappiness within the BBC structure, the frustration at the bureaucratic nature of the management, and the generally poor state of morale," Whittingdale said in a television interview.

Referring to the fact that material in some of the newly released documents was blacked out, apparently because of concerns that it might give rise to lawsuits, Whittingdale added: "The fact that so much of the evidence can't be published, because we are told the lawyers have advised it could be defamatory, in a sense tells its own story."

Large portions of the testimony of Jeremy Paxman, a blunt-talking Newsnight host who is known for his testy and combative interview style, for instance, are blacked out in places where it appears he is about to make personal remarks about other people.

And, in an annoyingly tantalising instance, Peter Horrocks, director of global news, declares: "It is no secret that ..." What follows has been redacted, however, so that it is in fact a secret.

Lord McAlpine, a former Tory cabinet minister who, in another debacle at Newsnight, was unjustly accused of being a pedophile in a report that was broadcast, said that the BBC should not have left out any material. "The BBC is not the Secret Service, for Christ's sake," he told The Daily Telegraph.

But the BBC defended the redactions. Tim Davie, the acting director general, said that "97 per cent plus of all the thousands of pages are out there."

In an interview with an off-camera interlocutor that was broadcast on the BBC website, Davie continued: "We are not redacting or taking out material that is embarrassing or uncomfortable to the BBC. We have simply taken out stuff that external lawyers saw as a clear risk."

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