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Saturday, 10 November 2012

Newsnight Embroiled in Second Scandal

The BBC's self-proclaimed "flagship" news programme Newsnight is embroiled in a second child sex abuse scandal in the space of a month.

The latest calamity comes shortly after Newsnight was accused of shelving a report exposing Jimmy Savile's paedophilia in order to preserve the ratings of future BBC Savile tribute shows.

On Friday, 2nd November, in response to a tweet from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism's Iain Overton, the UK media started to report that Newsnight was about to name a leading Thatcher-era politician as a child sex abuser.

Overton had been investigating the harrowing tales of sexual abuse that took place at the Bryn Esten children's home in Wrexham back in the 1980s. He was the journalist that would be presenting the report on Newsnight later that evening. His suggestive tweet whipped up a media frenzy, with the press and Twitterati frantically searching for the name of the prime suspect.

Several names attracted speculation, one of which was Thatcherite peer Lord Alistair McAlpine. Along with thousands of others we had stumbled across that name hours before Newsnight went to air. As the facts were still very patchy we took the sensible decision not to pre-empt Overton's report by suggesting the suspect's identity.

A bumper audience tuned into Newsnight eagerly awaiting the publicised naming of the Bryn Esten abuse suspect. Overton introduced the piece and reiterated previous claims that a leading Thatcher-era politician had abused children from the home. Abuse victim Steve Messham spoke movingly about the abuse he had faced during his time at the Wrexham home, but despite the innuendo and pre-broadcast furore not once was the suspect named. Viewers had been lured to Newsnight on a falsehood, which was propagated by Overton's earlier over-egging on Twitter.

Disappointed at Newsnight's failure to clarify the facts the viewing public headed back to the web in their masses, eagerly seeking the name that Newsnight had failed to deliver. The name of McAlpine was still perched high in the search results, so more and more people arrived at the mistaken conclusion that he must be the unnamed abuser.

It now transpires that those speculating on McAlpine's name were wrong. Messham has now clarified the situation by saying that McAlpine was not the man who abused him as a child. Furthermore, McAlpine has said that he will take legal action against those outlets that publicly named him as the suspect before the facts were established. According to the non-domiciled peer, who was the Conservative Party treasurer, he has never been to a children's home and has only visited Wrexham once.

BBC arses went into spasm the moment McAlpine threatened to unleash his legal dogs. BBC Director General George Entwistle has been touring the BBC studios to defend the Corporation's handling of the case. His furrowed brow betrays the fact that he is a man paddling frantically against a current of editorial sleaze and negative publicity. Tellingly Entwistle refuses to be interviewed by anyone but the BBC, no doubt fearing the candour of questions that could be posed by a rival broadcaster.

Despite reassurances to the contrary there is little doubt that Entwistle's days at the BBC are numbered. Questions will no doubt also be raised about the security of Director of News Helen Boaden's position. Both of these high profile BBC roles are looking distinctly untenable at the moment.

In the space of a month the BBC has failed to expose their own Jimmy Savile, one of Britain's most prolific child sex offenders, and has wrongly implicated a senior politician in the Bryn Esten child abuse scandal.

A recent poll by Comres on behalf of BBC Radio Five Live, asked 1,002 viewers and listeners about the impact of the Jimmy Savile sex abuse allegations. Just 45 % of respondents believe the BBC is trustworthy, compared to 62 % back in 2009.

Not bad for a month's work Mr Entwistle.

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