BBC failed to complete 'basic journalistic checks'

Mon, Nov 12, 2012, 00:00

The BBC’s botched Newsnight programme failed to complete “basic journalistic checks”, an official report concluded this evening.

And there was confusion about who had the ultimate responsibility for “final editorial sign-off” on the story which mistakenly implicated Lord McAlpine in a child sex abuse scandal.

A report by the BBC’s Scotland director Ken MacQuarrie into the Newsnight blunders found the programme’s editorial management structure had been “seriously weakened” as a result of the editor having to step aside over the Jimmy Savile scandal, and the departure of the deputy editor.

The mistakes led to the departure of director-general George Entwistle on Saturday night.

At the time of the broadcast, the programme’s editor Peter Rippon had stepped aside as a result of the Savile furore. An independent inquiry, the Pollard Review, is looking into the circumstances behind the shelving of a Newsnight report late last year into the late DJ’s abuse.

A blog written by Mr Rippon about the decision-making  - and on which both Mr Entwistle and BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten had relied  - was found to have contained inaccuracies.

The BBC called the failings “unacceptable”. Earlier today it brought in a single chain of command for news output once again.

And it is now seeking “as a matter of urgency” to fill a vacancy for a non-executive director of the BBC with a senior external figure with a background in “overseeing journalism”.

The BBC Trust said tonight that Mr MacQuarrie’s findings of “serious failures” were “very concerning”.

A spokeswoman said: “It is clear from the MacQuarrie report on the November 2 Newsnight that there were serious failures in the normal checks and balances that the Trust expects from BBC journalism, and these were compounded by the confusion created by the dual reporting structure in news established during the Pollard inquiry. This is very concerning.

“The measures that Tim Davie has put in place are sensible and appropriate while the inquiry carries out its work, and we note that consideration is being given to further action in respect of the November 2 Newsnight.

“We expect to receive regular updates on this issue from the acting director-general as he works with the utmost urgency to restore public confidence in the BBC and the integrity of its journalism.”

The BBC said Peter Johnston, director of BBC Northern Ireland, had been involved in the decisions about the Newsnight report.

A spokesman said: “The sequencing of events around this report has been reviewed by Ken MacQuarrie and the BBC has now published a summary of findings and actions. The next stage of this process is now under way.

“It will, amongst other things, seek to clarify decision-making roles and responsibilities in relation to the Newsnight report. We expect that these investigations will be concluded as quickly as possible. In the meantime, we
will not be making any further comment.”

Earlier, BBC head of news Helen Boaden and her deputy Stephen Mitchell stepped aside in a crisis that has raised questions about ethics, competence and management at the broadcaster.

The saga has also called into question the role played by Mark Thompson, the former BBC director general who became the chief executive of the New York Times today.

The acting director general of the BBC Tim Davie held his first meeting last night with the BBC Trust since being drafted in as a stand-in for Mr Entwistle.

Mr Davie told Radio 4’s World At One that he wanted to apologise personally to Lord McAlpine.

“We have apologised for the broadcast but my style is to apologise personally. I hope to talk to him,” he said.

But Mr Davie's efforts to move on will be hampered by a row which has erupted over the disclosure that Mr Entwistle - who served just 54 days in the post - was to receive a full year’s salary of £450,000 in lieu of notice.

Under the terms of his contract he was entitled to only six months’ pay, but the trust said that the additional payment had been agreed as a reflection of his continuing involvement with the various BBC inquiries now under way.

The move was greeted with anger and disbelief by MPs. The chairman of the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee, John Whittingdale, said the trust had to explain how it could justify such a large pay-off.

“A lot of people will be very surprised that somebody who was in the job for such a short period of time and then had to leave in these circumstances should be walking away with £450,000 of licence fee payers’ money,” he said.

Agencies

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