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BBC director defends handling of sex abuse crisis

LONDON — The director general of the BBC on Tuesday defended the institution’s handling of a burgeoning sex abuse scandal involving one of its best-known personalities, Jimmy Savile, saying the corporation was not trying to ‘‘avoid answering questions’’ and had begun inquiries that were ‘‘the opposite of an attempt to hide things.’’

The director, George Entwistle, was appearing before a parliamentary panel that has played a major part in investigating Britain’s phone-hacking scandal and is known for its often abrasive interview techniques. But in more than two hours, Entwistle seemed to parry most questions, falling back frequently on the argument that formal inquiries that he has commissioned at the BBC would resolve some of the issues.

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Police are also investigating what they have called abuse on an unprecedented scale, possibly involving more than 200 girls, some on BBC premises.

Denying accusations of a coverup, Entwistle expressed horror at the scandal and said it had raised questions of trust and reputation for the BBC. He insisted that his direct knowledge of the episode was minimal, prompting panel members to mock him for what they called an extraordinary lack of curiosity about events around him.

The hearing came just a day after the BBC broadcast an examination by the ‘‘Panorama’’ program into a decision by the editor of another program, ‘‘Newsnight,’’ to cancel an investigation last December into accusations of abuse against Savile, an iconic showman and prime-time television host once depicted by the BBC as a national treasure.

“There is no question in my mind that this is a very grave matter indeed,’’ Entwistle said.

‘‘I would accept that there have been times when we have taken longer to do things than in a perfect world I would have liked,’’ he continued. ‘‘But I think if you looked at what we have achieved since the scale of the crisis became clear, I think you see we have done much of what we should have done and done it in the right order with proper respect paid to the right authorities.’’

It was not possible to look back on the decades of Savile’s behavior ‘‘with anything but horror that his activities went on as long as they did undetected,’’ Entwistle said.

Asked whether sexual abuse was endemic at the BBC, as some victims have suggested, Entwistle said he did ‘‘not have enough of a picture to know it was endemic.’’

But he added: ‘‘There’s no question that what Jimmy Savile did and the way the BBC behaved — the culture and practices of the BBC seemed to allow Jimmy Savile to do what he did — will raise questions of trust . . . and reputation for us.’’

The BBC has instituted investigations into its culture over decades and into the details of the canceled ‘‘Newsnight’’ program. Entwistle said he was confident the inquiry was “as wide as it should be.’’

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