The cameras turn inward: Day of chaos at the BBC

By Ian Dunt and Alex Stevenson

The BBC is enduring a strange and chaotic day, as it tries to limit the damage from one of its own programmes' investigation into another of its programmes.

The ongoing row over Newsnight's decision to drop an investigation into Jimmy Salvile last year is being highlighted by a Panorama programme tonight, which suggests BBC bosses may have cancelled the story to preserve Christmas schedules.

This morning, Newsnight editor Peter Rippon stepped aside while an internal investigation into the matter is conducted.

With news helicopters flying overhead, Television Centre turned into something resembling a  reality TV set, as journalists tried to doorstep their own colleagues as they left the building.

"Have you any comments on Newsnight investigation?" a Channel 4 News reporter asked Jeremy Paxman, one of Newsnight's presenters.

"No. Have you?" he replied.

"Normally we report the news rather than being the news so that's slightly different."

As the reporter kept on asking questions, a clearly bemused Paxman answered: "Keep trying. I would."

Downing Street threw the BBC a lifeline today, when David Cameron expressed support for the twin internal inquiries launched by the corporation.

"The nation is appalled, we are all appalled, by the allegations of what Jimmy Savile did and they seem to get worse by the day," he said during a speech on penal reform.

"Every organisation that was involved with him, whether the NHS or the BBC, needs to get to the bottom of what happened.

"The developments today are concerning because the BBC has effectively changed its story about why it dropped the Newsnight programme about Jimmy Savile. So these are serious questions.

"They need to be answered. They need to be answered by these independent reviews that the BBC has established and I'm sure that they will be."

Cameron's confidence in the internal inquiries will be a relief for the corporation. Labour leader Ed Miliband has already called for an independent inquiry.

Rippon was forced to step aside with immediate effect today, after the BBC confirmed his explanation about the decision to drop his programme's investigation was "inaccurate or incomplete in some respects".

He still plans to return to his job after the internal investigation into the BBC's decision to drop the Newsnight investigation is completed. The investigation, which is running in parallel to a broader probe into the culture at the BBC which allowed Savile to abuse children, could be over in just a few weeks.

Nick Pollard, the former head of Sky News, is leading one of two internal BBC investigations into claims that Savile could have committed serial sexual offences on BBC premises.

"We're not ruling anything out, and that remains the case, but the BBC has launched these investigations which are run by independent people," the prime minister's spokesman said.

"We are confident that the BBC and the BBC Trust are taking these allegations seriously."

Culture secretary Maria Miller met with Chris Patten, the chairman of the BBC Trust, to discuss the terms of the BBC's inquiries last week, No 10 confirmed.

Calls for Savile to lose his knighthood are academic, Downing Street added, because all honours become invalid on death.