British lawmakers to quiz BBC chief over Savile sex abuse claims
LONDON (Reuters) - The chief of Britain's public broadcaster, the BBC, is to answer questions before a parliamentary committee about child sex abuse allegations spanning six decades against the late Jimmy Savile, an eccentric children's show host and charity fundraiser.
The scandal involving Savile, a household name to millions, has piled pressure on the state-funded broadcaster and raised questions about Britain's celebrity culture.
Police believe the BBC host was a serial offender who may have abused 60 victims, with accusations spanning six decades up until 2006. The accusations have surfaced since his death last year at the age of 84.
Some of his alleged victims say they were targeted on BBC premises at the height of Savile's fame in the 1970s and 80s and said there was a culture of sexual abuse and secrecy at the broadcaster with their accusations dismissed by bosses.
The chairman of parliament's media committee said he would be calling BBC Director General George Entwistle to answer questions next week.
The BBC has launched its own investigations, alongside a police inquiry, into the allegations, which might have involved other celebrities, and over the decision to shelve a documentary by its flagship Newsnight show into Savile's alleged sex crimes, leading to accusations of a cover-up.
On Monday, the opposition Labour Party urged the BBC to ensure nothing similar could happen again.
"Everyone has been sickened by the vile abuse perpetrated by Jimmy Savile," Labour's culture spokeswoman Harriet Harman told parliament.
"What has deepened the revulsion is this happened at the BBC - an institution so loved and trusted, it's known as 'Auntie'. This has cast a stain on the BBC."
The BBC's private sector rival ITV aired sexual assault allegations against Savile earlier this month, triggering a media storm and accusations that the BBC had mishandled or even covered up the case.
"The allegations emerging around Jimmy Savile are absolutely horrifying," Conservative Culture Minister Maria Miller said. "My thoughts are with those affected and their families who have suffered in silence for decades."
Miller said claims against other celebrities were "very troubling".
In a somber parliamentary debate, lawmakers accused Savile, a cigar-chomping former DJ who travelled in a Rolls Royce and won a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth for his charity work, of using his fame to abuse children.
"Clearly, it was Jimmy Savile's celebrity status that gave him a sense of impunity," Harman said.
(Reporting by Matt Falloon and Tim Castle; Editing by Janet Lawrence)
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