More heads expected to roll at BBC in wake of Entwistle's resignation as DG

Mon, Nov 12, 2012, 00:00

Several senior BBC managers are expected to fall, following the weekend’s resignation of the corporation’s newly appointed director general over the handling of paedophilia allegations by BBC’s Newsnight.

In a bid to take control of the crisis, BBC chairman Lord Patten declared that a replacement for George Entwistle – in post for just 54 days – will be made rapidly.

Major reforms of the BBC’s often-criticised, unwieldy management will be made, said Lord Patten, arguing the broadcaster “had more senior leaders than the Chinese Communist Party”.

During a round of television interviews, Lord Patten said the BBC has to show it “has a grip” on the crisis and must “get ourselves back on to the road” to hold the public’s trust.

Careful not to be seen interfering with the BBC’s independence, No 10 Downing Street said the BBC has the ability to reform, but it also mentioned the need for “a grip” to be taken.

Newsnight faces investigations for not broadcasting an inquiry into Sir Jimmy Savile last December and for making unsupported charges against an unnamed former Conservative politician.

The former politician was quickly “outed” on the internet as former Conservative Party treasurer Lord Robert McAlpine, though the charges made against him were false.

Mr Entwistle’s brief tenure was effectively ended in a disastrous interview with BBC Radio 4 Today presenter John Humphrys on Saturday.

In it, Mr Entwistle admitted he had not been told beforehand that Newsnight planned to broadcast allegations linking a senior Tory from the Thatcher era to an abuse scandal at a north Wales children’s home.

“Cerebral, decent” man

Saying that he had not tried to persuade Mr Entwistle from resigning, Lord Patten said he had “wanted to do all the right things”.

“He is a very, very good man – cerebral, decent, honourable, brave,” said the former Conservative MP and governor of Hong Kong, adding that Mr Entwistle had been overwhelmed.

Despite calls he should quit, too, Lord Patten said that he had no doubt “people will tell me to take my cards and clear off” if he does not restore trust.

“But I will not take my marching orders from Mr Murdoch’s newspapers.”

The crisis, if anything, is set to ensure the reforms planned by Mr Entwistle will go through, requiring leaner management and fewer divisions.

Lord Patten said that Mr Entwistle had been “spot on” when he said that the BBC had “to get away from the infighting, be much more self-critical” and devolve power and responsibility through the organisation.

Protecting tradition

Questions about the future of Newsnight have been raised, though the BBC chairman insisted that the investigative traditions of both it and Panorama must be protected.

A report by a senior BBC executive, Ken MacQuarrie, into the handling of the allegations from one of those abused at the north Wales care home was to have been supplied by last night.

“We will decide what immediate action needs to be taken once Ken MacQuarrie’s investigation into last week’s Newsnight is complete. We will then look at what else needs to happen once the two independent inquiries have reported,” said Lord Patten in a letter to BBC staff yesterday.

No BBC Newsnight journalist, it has emerged, worked on the investigation subsequently broadcast by the flagship current affairs programme into allegations that a former senior Conservative politician had been linked to child abuse in Wales.

The story was brought to the programme by former BBC journalist Angus Stickler, now working with Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ) at City University.

However, it has now been learned that a freelance producer was hired to work with Stickler, rather than staff on the programme having been involved.

He then recorded an interview with abuse victim Steve Messham.

Reporting failures: Spending cuts blamed

A succession of leading BBC journalists, including Newsnight’s Jeremy Paxman and Jonathan Dimbleby, have blamed spending cuts for the reporting failures that have pushed the BBC into its latest crisis.

Over 7,000 jobs have gone through cuts in budgets in the last decade, even though the BBC’s range of output expanded considerably, particularly online, under George Entwistle’s predecessor, Mark Thompson.

Paxman said the BBC had been cowed by the Hutton Inquiry in the wake of the Iraq War and had appointed “biddable people”, who went on to sharply cut programming budgets while “bloating the management”.

“That is how you arrive at the current mess on Newsnight. I very much doubt the problem is unique to that programme. I had hoped that George might stay to sort this out.

“It is a great pity that a talented man has been sacrificed while timeservers prosper,” he said.

Former Newsnight presenter Peter Snow agreed with Paxman’s comments.

Jonathan Dimbleby asked: “Where did those cuts come? Not in management, but in news, which is the frontline of the defining mission of the BBC.”

Former Tory minister Lord Tebbit said the BBC’s culture, and not just its management needed to be cleaned up to end what he called the control of “Eurocentric left-of-centre Guardianistas”.

The attempts to link child abuse in North Wales with No. 10 Downing Street during the Thatcher era had been ‘a BBC plot to smear Alistair (Lord McAlpine) and (former prime minister) Margaret Thatcher’ and were ‘a disgrace’, Lord Tebbit declared.