Journalists fear fall-out for BBC as programme tries to ‘debunk’ allegations against MPs
By Mark Watts, David Hencke and Nick Fielding | 22 March 2015
Panorama embarked on the programme even though the BBC is already reeling from the paedophile activities of one of its biggest stars, the late Jimmy Savile, and the canning of an expose by BBC2’s Newsnight of his sexual abuse of children.
Three sources at BBC News told Exaro that they were anxious about the Panorama, which had been working on the programme for many months, with one saying: “It is taking a very odd angle.”
Anxiety has grown as a series of articles on Exaro has forced the authorities to take seriously allegations of child sex abuse – and even murder – by a network of prominent paedophiles, as well as cover-up claims.
BBC chiefs are discussing whether the programme can go ahead as originally planned in light of the announcement on Monday that the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) was investigating a series of allegations that Scotland Yard had halted investigations into child sex abuse by MPs and others.
Worries about the planned Panorama are shared elsewhere at the BBC after it commissioned a feature-length documentary last week about abuse survivors who came forward to ‘Operation Yewtree’, the police investigation sparked by ITV’s exposure of Savile.
Journalists and producers at BBC News, as well as documentaries, fear that the Panorama will deter abuse survivors from speaking to them.
One source at Panorama said that it would be “perverse” for it to try to discredit the story about “VIP paedophiles”.
Another insider at the current-affairs programme said: “Its approach is in line with a view among some BBC managers that Newsnight should not have even tried to expose Jimmy Savile. But it is being pulled in different directions because of the worries from BBC News.”
But Alistair Jackson, the programme’s producer, denied that it had set out to rubbish claims about VIP paedophiles. He told Exaro: “The programme retains a very open mind, and is not seeking to be definitive. It is simply aiming to explore, where possible, any evidence that has been put forward and test it.”
Work on the programme started at least a year ago when Panorama considered having David Aaronovitch, a columnist on The Times well known for dismissing claims about paedophile VIPs as “conspiracy theory”, to present it.
The idea caused consternation among Panorama producers, who pointed to an article by Aaronovitch in The Observer in 2003 that attempted to diminish the seriousness of “child porn”. The idea of having Aaronovitch present the programme was abandoned.
Jackson said: “The proposal for David Aaronovitch to make a Panorama was not taken further into a commission. There is nothing unusual in this. The programme hears from many potential film-makers and reporters. Only a small proportion of ideas are commissioned.”
Aaronovitch said: “News to me. I have never been in the frame to present a Panorama.”
Senior BBC figures also fear that the Panorama threatens to disrupt the corporation’s negotiations over renewal of its charter and the licence fee.
One Panorama source said that the message from management was: “Do not drop us in the shit in the run-up to the charter renewal around allegations of paedophiles and all that.”
But the source said that this should not mean trying to debunk claims about paedophile VIPs, saying: “That would be perverse. That would get them in as much trouble.”
Panorama was already in “special measures”, the source added.
BBC bosses shifted Tom Giles from his job as editor of Panorama after he oversaw an edition that reported on the suppression of Newsnight’s Savile investigation, making uncomfortable viewing for the broadcaster’s management.
Asked about the clash between BBC News and Panorama and whether the programme on VIP paedophiles was even going ahead, a BBC spokesman said: “We do not comment on investigations prior to broadcast.”
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