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BBC makes its mark as a questionable editor

REDACTED.

That word was unknown to many until the publication of the report of the inquiry into the MPs' expenses scandal, in which large sections of blacked out material left the lingering impression that the public was not getting the whole truth.

Now we have another report, Nick Pollard's into the decision to drop the BBC's Newsnight probe into the sex crimes of Jimmy Savile. Once again there are redactions, especially in the testimony of Newsnight anchorman Jeremy Paxman. Eight of his 19 pages of evidence are blacked out. According to the corporation's acting director general, Tim Davie, all redactions are for "legal reasons" but it leaves the suspicion that information had to be dragged from the corporation. It also raises the question of why BBC employees were making so many actionable comments about each other.

The BBC has a respectable defence for this apparent censorship: that any subsequent legal action could result in a fine that would fall on licence payers. Nevertheless, the Pollard report risks being remembered for what has been cut out, given that honest comment is a well-established defence against defamation.

It is hard to escape the conclusion that public trust in the BBC has been damaged by this scandal. It provides ammunition to those who, for commercial or political reasons, would like to see the BBC knocked from its privileged perch. That is not fair. The central charge was that the BBC pulled the Savile investigation to protect tribute programmes for the dead disc jockey. This report demonstrates convincingly that this was not the case. The decision was "flawed and wrong" but not improper. In other words, the Savile affair has not seriously undermined the BBC's reputation as the gold standard for independence and integrity, as some have claimed.

However, it has laid bare a shocking level of dysfunctionality at senior management level. As Mr Pollard puts it, the BBC's management system "proved completely incapable of dealing" with the issues raised by the axing of the story. Indeed, the testimony reveals a seeming nest of vipers in which everyone appeared intent on blaming someone else, though as yet, not one person has been sacked.

There is a paradox here. The BBC has no lack of layers of well-paid managers. (BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten told the review that the corporation has "more managers than China".) Yet this crisis revealed a lack of leadership and suggests a silo mentality in which senior staff have little contact and in-fighting is rife.

Tony Hall, the incoming DG, can make a fresh start only if this issue is tackled. The Herald has argued before that the corporation and its licence payers would both benefit from a slimmed-down BBC management with clear lines of responsibility.

Meanwhile, the emphasis in this story must now switch to the victims of Savile and those like him. It is too easy to say: "It was different then." The vulnerable will always be at risk in a popular culture that generates seemingly untouchable celebrities.

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