LONDON — BBC reporters put their own bosses in the hot seat over their role in an expanding pedophilia scandal Monday, airing footage from a previously unseen expose of one of the BBC’s most popular entertainers and quizzing senior management about why they canned the bombshell program.
Monday night’s powerful but often awkward broadcast centered on revelations that late children’s television star Jimmy Savile was one of the country’s most prolific predators, suspected of sexually assaulting more than 200 children over his decades-long career. The scandal’s explosion has cut an ugly gash through the venerable broadcaster’s public image, a wound made all the worse by the revelation that executives there scrapped what would have been a hard-hitting expose of Savile’s misdeeds last year.
The broadcast set out to explain why the Savile investigation was never televised. The answer remains murkier than ever — the BBC stopped short of accusing any of its bosses of a cover-up — but viewers were given harrowing testimony about the scale of the abuse, including allegations that girls and, in at least one case, a boy, were forced to have sex with Savile in his car, his camper van, or even dingy dressing rooms on BBC premises.
‘‘I’m so full of self-disgust. I can’t believe that I did such things,’’ said Karin Ward, who described being cajoled into giving the presenter sexual favors when she was just a young teen. She said she should have tried to put a stop to it but ‘‘I didn’t. None of us did.’’
The program was surreal in parts, not least because nearly all the children who surrounded Savile in archival footage were shown with their faces blurred out — each one of them a potential victim of sexual abuse. Also bizarre was the fact that the BBC was effectively conducting a televised inquisition into itself. One particularly striking scene involved a journalist bombarding BBC boss George Entwistle with questions on what appeared to be his morning commute.
‘‘I’ve never seen an organization do such a knocking job on itself,’’ commented ITV journalist Kenny Toal. ‘‘Fair play to the journalists who spoke up against their bosses.’’
BBC editor Peter Rippon — who stepped down temporarily only hours before the show was aired — was hit by some of the hardest knocks. Under fire from his two reporters, he was shown to have put out a series of misleading statements about the documentary. E-mails appeared to show he was enthusiastic about the expose at first, but abruptly changed his mind for reasons that remain unexplained.
The director general of the BBC at the time the segment was canceled was Mark Thompson, who has recently become the president and chief executive of The New York Times Co., which owns The Boston Globe. In a letter sent to members of Parliament earlier this month, a BBC spokeswoman said that neither Thompson nor George Entwistle, his successor as director general of the broadcaster, was involved in the decision not to pursue the program.
Reaction was mixed, with some viewers criticizing the BBC for not having pushed its executives harder. Others congratulated the broadcaster on a compelling broadcast that must have been difficult to organize. The Mirror’s deputy television editor Mark Jefferies said in a message posted to Twitter that the program was ‘‘very thorough, compelling, and depressing’’ and which he said showed the BBC ‘‘at its best.’’
‘‘Sadly it was highlighting BBC at its worst,’’ he said.
Tim Burt, a managing partner of the Stockwell Communications crisis management firm, said the BBC faces a major blow to its reputation at a time when it is entering delicate negotiations with the government about the terms of its charter.
Asked how the BBC could have avoided some of the scandal, producer Meirion Jones answered: ‘‘Very easily. By broadcasting a story about Jimmy Savile and how he was a pedophile.’’
Material from The New York Times is included in this report.