It is 250 pages long,it has taken longer and cost more than expected and some people in the BBC are wondering if it was ever necessary in the first place,and it comes out today (Wednesday 19th December)
But will Nick Pollard’s findings be the top story out of the various reports released by the BBC as it attempts to bring the various Newsnight sagas to an end before Christmas?
Th full list of documents is:
1. The Pollard review into the handling of the Newsnight investigation into Savile
2. The McQuarrie report into the Newsnight allegations that led to the BBC paying damages to Lord McAlpine (previously only partly-released)
3.The conclusions of the internal disciplinary procedures into the McAlpine allegations
4.The report of the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee’s conclusions on ‘McAlpine’
In the outside world ‘Savile’ is a bigger story than ‘McAlpine’ partly because it has been going on longer and made more front pages.But inside the BBC ‘McAlpine’ is regarded as much more serious because it goes to the heart of what the BBC says it does best, produce high-quality,totally trustworthy news and current affairs.If it can’t do that,what is it for?
So expect some headline-making disciplinary decisions.People may not be sacked but that doesn’t mean they won’t lose the jobs they currently have.
On Pollard, it is already taken for granted that it will start with a non-headline,there never was undue pressure from the top of the BBC on Newsnight editor Peter Rippon to drop the story.He just decided it himself.
The expected criticism of BBC Deputy Director of News,Steve Mitchell, may focus on two things.Firstly his alleged role in not correcting earlier the mistakes in Rippon’s blog after Rippon apparently confirmed to him that there were mistakes.Secondly his role in what’s known in most companies as the ‘risk register’, in the BBC’s case a list of planned programmes where there are risks which are being managed.This is a particularly interesting area because if the Savile investigation appeared on this list then it was another occasion when a Savile-related document would have gone to the office of the then DG,Mark Thompson,apparently without him noticing.If the story wasn’t on the list it is reasonable to ask why not?Or perhaps it was on the list and somebody took it off.
Supporters of Mitchell continue to swamp acting DG Tim Davie with messages urging fair treatment of their man.Meanwhile the Guardian reports that acting Director of News Francesca Unsworth has sent out an email saying that Helen Boaden will return to her post in time to hold quarterly all-staff meetings in the New Year.
The most interesting story in the papers this morning is in the Times where Ben Webster reports that Nick Pollard has accused the journalist who led the investigation into Savile ‘of leaking information that embarrassed the corporation’.Webster says Nick Pollard wrote last week to the lawyer for Meirion Jones, giving notice that he would be accused of leaking the material.
This letter was one of the Rule 13 letters that had to be sent out to those criticised in the report.They and their lawyers then had the chance to comment and challenge the finding before publication.There is no doubt in my mind that Jones was one of those people who received such a letter.What we dont know ,and the Times carefully avoids saying, is whether Pollard has gone ahead with the criticism despite whatever Jones and his legal advisor replied.
Rob Wilson, the Conservative MP for Reading East,is quoted in the article as saying he is concerned that the Pollard inquiry appeared to be ‘seeking to blame a journalist for what has been described as the worst crisis for 50 years at the BBC rather than focusing on the behaviour of senior executives’.Undoubtedly if the final report includes this allegation against Jones there will be people who will be surprised either because they dont believe it is true or they find it odd that,in Rob Wilson’s words, the Pollard inquiry has been ‘hunting down leaks and fingering individual journalists’.
As to what Pollard may say about the past year’s past two Directors-General,I will be surprised if there isn’t criticism of George Entwistle. Internally BBC people are reflecting that if ‘incurious George’ had,in that subsequently over-used phrase ‘got a grip’, the Pollard review might never have been necessary. As someone who was very critical of his performance in the John Humphrys interview I was slightly more sympathetic about his ignorance of the Guardian story on the BBC’s McAlpine mistake when I learned that one of the reasons was that he was at his son’s 18th birthday party.
As to Mark Thompson, the BBC has said that the Pollard review would look ‘at the BBC’s handling of material that might have been of interest to the police or relevant authorities’.I can’t see how you can do that without asking the Chief Executive of the organisation what he knew when and what he did about it. Of course,Mark Thompson flew back from New York to be questioned by Pollard and his QC so there was an opportunity to ask him this. Yet there are reports that the inquiry is not considering the events between January and October of this year which is when you would have expected the police to have been informed at some point.Hopefully this confusion will be resolved within hours.
One final point:in order to get these four documents out today -and avoid publication slipping even closer to Christmas and the inevitable allegation that the timing was a deliberate PR ploy- a lot of process has been got through at the BBC and the BBC Trust very quickly.I can’t believe there wasn’t somebody somewhere who wasn’t worried it was all being rushed and wanted an option to return to some issue or another in the New Year.
Tony Hall was at the BBC yesterday reading his copy of Pollard so he will be ready for any overspill into his new regime.