George Entwistle, director-general of the BBC, has issued a formal apology to alleged victims of the late television presenter Jimmy Savile amid mounting accusations of sexual abuse.
His apology on Monday coincided with confirmation that the broadcaster would conduct its own inquiry into the allegations, also requested by prime minister David Cameron, once a separate police investigation was completed.
The police investigation will extend to people who worked with the TV personality, Mr Entwistle said.
His comments, which were stronger than statements made last week by the BBC, came as media criticism mounts over the broadcaster’s handling of the Jimmy Savile scandal.
The corporation has come under fire for a decision in December last year to drop a planned programme into the alleged sexual abuse.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Entwistle revealed that, in his previous role as head of vision at the BBC, he had been told that Newsnight, the broadcaster’s current affairs programme, was preparing an item into the allegations Later that month, the BBC decided not to run the item.
Peter Rippon, Newsnight editor, has since insisted that BBC bosses did not press him to drop the segment. Mr Entwistle has also stressed that Mr Rippon was not put under pressure not to air the programme.
“BBC journalists are normally immensely robust,” said Lorraine Heggessey, chair of independent production company Boom Pictures and a former controller of BBC 1. “I can only assume that the editor was not comfortable enough that [his case was] cast iron.”
But the revelations have raised concerns that the BBC may have been seeking to cover up evidence of abuse dating back to the 1970s, some of which allegedly occurred on BBC premises, and a past culture where molestation and abuse of minors were overlooked.
Last week ITV aired its own documentary into abuse claims against Savile. Since then, more than a dozen women have claimed they were subjected to abuse by the TV star and by others working at the broadcaster.
Analysts said if public trust in the BBC was damaged from the crisis, it could affect the outcome of forthcoming discussions over charter renewal in 2017.
“Trust for the BBC is its public currency,” said Claire Enders of Enders Analysis. “This is particularly important going into licence fee renewal negotiations.”