The 200-page report by Nick Pollard, a former head of the Sky News channel who began his broadcast career as a BBC reporter, traced in detail what it described as “a chain of events that was to prove disastrous for the BBC.” Among other things, Mr. Pollard blamed a “rigid management system” that had “proved completely incapable of dealing with” the crisis that followed the program’s cancellation.
While much of the report centered on the interplay between journalists and their superiors as the allegations against Mr. Savile were investigated, its central conclusion appeared to be that confusion and mismanagement, not a cover-up, lay at the heart of the decision to drop the Savile program. Mr. Savile died at 84 in October 2011, weeks before the “Newsnight” program was scheduled to be broadcast.
“The efforts to get to the truth behind the Savile story proved beyond the combined efforts of the senior management, legal department, corporate communications team and anyone else for well over a month” after the crisis broke, precipitated by a program earlier this year on ITV, Britain’s leading commercial broadcaster, the report said. “Leadership and organization seemed to be in short supply.”
Mr. Pollard dismissed one theory that was widely circulated in recent months, that BBC News executives or their superiors, reluctant to have the BBC reveal a dark passage in its past, pressured the “Newsnight” team to cancel the Savile segment. Critics who took this views have played down the reason Peter Rippon, the program’s editor, cited to his staff. Mr. Rippon said he considered the team’s conclusions about Mr. Savile had not been adequately substantiated.
“While there clearly were discussions about the Savile story between Mr. Rippon and his managers,” Mr. Pollard said, he did not believe that they had exerted “undue pressure on him.”
The report was strongly critical of several news executives who were directly involved in the decision to cancel the Savile exposé, including Mr. Rippon and the two top executives in the BBC’s news division to whom he reported, Helen Boaden and Stephen Mitchell, all three of whom were suspended from their posts during the nine-week Pollard inquiry.
But it adopted a largely sparing tone in its review of the role played by the broadcaster’s former director general, Mark Thompson, who stepped down after eight years in the job in September and became president and chief executive of The New York Times Company last month.
The report’s criticism appeared to be aimed mainly at the broadcaster’s complex management systems, not on the actions — or absence of them — by Mr. Thompson and other top executives who presided over the BBC, its $6 billion annual budget and its 23,000 employees.
Mr. Thompson has said that he was not briefed about the “Newsnight” investigation before its cancellation, was not involved in canceling it, and did not know about the allegations of sexual abuse against Mr. Savile until the report about the cancellation appeared on ITV, a commercial competitor of the BBC.
The report does not dispute Mr. Thompson’s public statements that he did not know about the Savile investigation until it had been killed.
It cited, without criticism, Mr. Thompson’s account of an episode when he was asked about the “Newsnight” cancellation by a BBC reporter at a social gathering. The report quoted Mr. Thompson as having testified that he subsequently asked BBC News executives about the matter and “received reassurances” that the program had been killed for “editorial or journalistic reasons.” After that, Mr. Thompson said, according to the report, he “crossed it off my list and went off to worry about something else.”
While the scuttled program became the subject of media stories in London beginning in January — some of which, BBC officials have said, were included in press summaries prepared for Mr. Thompson — Mr. Pollard concluded: “Mr. Thompson told me that the various press stories which followed passed him by. I have no reason to doubt what he told me.”