Disciplinary proceedings on 'Newsnight' failings begin
Disciplinary proceedings are to begin immediately into failures by the BBC programme Newsnight, which wrongly alleged a former senior Conservative Party figure had been involved in child abuse at a children’s home in north Wales.
The failings in the investigation are “unacceptable” and “clear and decisive action” will be taken to restore public trust in the BBC’s journalism, the corporation said last night, just hours after its two most senior news executives stood down.
Head of news Helen Boaden and her deputy, Stephen Mitchell, were ordered to step down by acting director general Tim Davie, who was appointed temporarily to fill the gap left by George Entwistle, who resigned on Saturday.
The controversy erupted after Newsnight co-operated with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ) – which is part of London’s City University – and broadcast allegations by a former inmates at the Bryn Estyn care home near Wrexham.
BBC Radio 4 Today programme editor Karen O’Connor is to become acting editor of Newsnight “to address the lack of clarity around the senior editorial chain of command” which helped lead to the latest blunder at the current affairs programme.
“The Newsnight editorial management structure had been seriously weakened since the editor stood aside and one of the deputy editors left the organisation. The editorial leadership of the team was under very considerable pressure,” according to a summary of the BBC review of the programme.It said “basic journalistic checks were not completed” by the BIJ, and the identity of the alleged abuser was not confirmed with the report’s main witness, Steve Messham.
The man wrongly blamed for the abuse, former Conservative Party treasurer Lord McAlpine is considering suing people who wrongly linked him in messages on Twitter.
A second victim “could not be traced in order to provide up-to-date corroboration. Legal advice was sought. No right of reply was offered to the unnamed individual at the centre of the allegation”, said the review carried out by BBC Scotland head Ken MacQuarrie.
Reign of error continues at BBC as interim DG walks out of Sky interview
ANALYSIS:George Entwistle’s “reign of error” has ended but the panic at the BBC continued yesterday with Tim Davie, the “marketing man” drafted in to replace Entwistle on an acting basis, clumsily walking out of an interview with Sky News.
“I will go now because I’ve got a lot to do,” Davie said, edging towards the door. It sounds reasonable. But having spent most of the interview glancing over at a shadowy offscreen figure, Davie’s performance added to the sense that there is a leadership stasis, if not an outright vacuum, at the top of the BBC.
“Did he have to go because he was incompetent or because he was no good at handling the media?” Sky anchor Dermot Murnaghan had asked Davie of his predecessor. But this is not an either/or question. Being “no good at handling the media” in an era of televised parliamentary grillings is the same as being incompetent when your job is front man for a massive institution funded from the public purse. Entwistle was on a salary of £450,000 (€562,000) a year, yet he couldn’t do crisis management.
Rather than being a Murdoch scalp, his departure, as former BBC News channel controller and deputy head of the BBC newsroom Kevin Bakhurst put it on Twitter, was “sadly inevitable”.
Bakhurst, of course, escaped before what BBC trust chairman Chris Patten called the “tsunami of filth” hit it, and he is now heading RTÉ News and Current Affairs, which, coincidentally, is in the midst of rehabilitating itself in the wake of A Mission to Prey.
Ultimately, Entwistle’s secondary job title as editor-in-chief, impossibly responsible for all BBC output, had little to do with his exit. He did not resign because he was let down by “shoddy journalism”, as Patten, the man who had hired him, implied. He flopped on to his sword because it had become patently obvious he was the wrong man for the job, and because of his role in the original non-running of the Savile story on Newsnight was under investigation.