BBC needs 'radical overhaul' - Patten

Sun, Nov 11, 2012, 00:00

The BBC needs a "radical" management overhaul after Director General George Entwistle resigned following a false report by one of its programmes, Chris Patten, chairman of the BBC Trust has said.

The BBC needs a "thorough, radical, structural overhaul" of its management, Lord Patten said on the BBC's Andrew Marr programme.

If the corporation loses public trust, "it's over," he said.

Mr Entwistle quit his post last night, less than two months after being appointed and fewer than two weeks after a television report by the BBC's Newsnight program falsely implicated a former senior politician with sexual abuse of a child.

Lord Patten said he would discuss the future of Newsnight with acting Director-General Tim Davie today, while a permanent replacement for Entwistle will be appointed within weeks..

In a brief statement outside Broadcasting House in London last night, Mr Entwistle said that he had decided to do the “honourable thing” and step down from his post.

“When appointed to the role, with 23 years’ experience as a producer and leader at the BBC, I was confident the trustees had chosen the best candidate for the post, and the right person to tackle the challenges and opportunities ahead,” he said.

“However the wholly exceptional events of the past few weeks have led me to conclude that the BBC should appoint a new leader.”

Standing alongside him Lord Patten said it was “one of the saddest evenings of my public life”.

A clearly emotional Lord Patten, who chose Mr Entwistle for the role, said that he had paid the price for the “unacceptable shoddy journalism” on Newsnight. “He has behaved as editor with huge honour and courage and would that the rest of the world always behaved the same,” he said.

Culture Secretary Maria Miller said: “It is regrettable, but the right decision. It is vital that credibility and public trust in this important national institution is restored.”

Mr Entwistle, who had been in post for less than two months, has spent virtually the entire time trying to deal with the fallout from the Jimmy Savile child abuse scandal.

The final nail in his coffin was the disclosure that Newsnight - which had been panned for not running a report exposing scandal - had wrongly implicated Lord McAlpine, a former Tory Party treasurer, in a child abuse scandal in north Wales in the 1970s and 1980s.

In a bruising interview yesterday morning with Radio 4 presenter John Humphrys, Mr Entwistle admitted that despite all the furore over the scandal, he had been unaware that Newsnight was going to broadcast the North Wales report.

“I found out about this film after it had gone out,” he said. “In the light of what has happened here I wish this was referred to me, but it wasn’t. I found out about the film the following day.”

An incredulous Mr Humphrys demanded: “So there is no natural curiosity, you wait for somebody to come along to you and say, ‘Excuse me director general, but this is happening and you may be interested’?

“You don’t look for yourself, you don’t do what everybody else in the country does, read newspapers, listen to everything that’s going on and say ‘What’s happening here?”’

The disclosure that he had not known about the Newsnight report was greeted with disbelief by MPs. The chairman of the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee John Whittingdale said last night his position had become untenable.

“It left the impression that the management of the BBC had lost their grip of the organisation and I think tonight’s decision is undoubtedly the right one,” he said. “I think that what has happened in the last few days has immensely weakened his authority and credibility. It would have been very difficult for him to continue in those circumstances.”

Mr Entwistle has been under fire since the disclosure that in his previous job as head of BBC television he had run tribute programmes on Jimmy Savile even though he was aware that Newsnight was investigating the late DJ.

He came under pressure to explain why he had not sought any information about what the allegations were that the programme was looking into.

After the allegations broke last month in an ITV documentary he was criticised for delays in setting up an inquiry and correcting mistakes in the BBC’s account of what happened.

The chief executive of BBC Worldwide, Tim Davie, will take over temporarily as acting director general while a permanent replacement is found.

One of the first issues he will have to deal with is a emergency report commissioned by Mr Entwistle into what happened over Newsnight’s north Wales investigation which had been due to land on his desk today.

There was some support for Mr Entwistle. Labour former culture secretary Ben Bradshaw described his departure as “a dreadful injustice and a terrible mistake”.

Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman said his departure was “a great shame”, saying he had been “brought low by cowards and incompetents”.

“The real problem here is the BBC’s decision, in the wake of the Hutton Inquiry, to play safe by appointing biddable people. They then compounded the problem by enforcing a series of cuts on programme budgets, while bloating the management,” he said in a statement released via his agent’s Twitter page. “That is how you arrive at the current mess on Newsnight. I had hoped that George might stay to sort this out. It is a great pity that a talented man has been sacrificed while time-servers prosper.”

Mr Entwistle’s position was dramatically undermined on Friday night when child abuse victim Steve Messham, who was interviewed by Newsnight, said Lord McAlpine was not the man who he told Newsnight had abused him when he was a teenager at a north Wales children’s home.

Although the programme, shown on November 2nd, had not named the peer - referring only to a senior Conservative from the Thatcher era - it quickly resulted in him being identified on internet blogs and social media sites.

With lawyers for Lord McAlpine indicating they were preparing to sue for defamation, the programme broadcast a humiliating on-air apology.

Appearing yesterday morning on Today, Mr Entwistle warned that staff involved could face disciplinary action but insisted that he was not intending to resign.

However, he acknowledged his fate lay ultimately in the hands of his employers, the BBC Trust.

“I am doing the right things to try and put this stuff straight,” he said. “I am accountable to the trust in that endeavour. If they do not feel I am doing the right things, then obviously I will be bound by their judgment.” It appears today that the judgment was that that task was beyond him.

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