BBC set for complete overhaul after shock resignation of director general George Entwistle
George Entwistle has resigned following controversy over a Newsnight report which falsely implicated former Conservative treasurer Lord Alistair McAlpine in a North Wales child abuse scandal.
Newsnight, an investigative program on the BBC, aired an episode on November 2 about a North Wales sex abuse case, a report into abuse at children's homes in the 1970s and 1980s that had previously been shelved.
On November 9, the BBC officially apologized for airing the program.
Standing outside BBC headquarters, Entwistle defended his decision to resign: “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.”
Entwistle took over as head of the BBC two months ago from Mark Thompson, who will become CEO of the New York Times this month. The BBC was emerging from a difficult period marked by budget cuts, job losses and mounting calls to justify its 3.5 billion-pound ($5.6 billion) budget.
The former BBC director general had previously told MPs that he was “not aware of the program before it was broadcast,” and had regretted it had not come to his attention sooner.
Many asked how the chief of the BBC could allow a second botched handling of a high-profile child sex-abuse story so soon after it was embroiled in crisis over allegations against late TV host Jimmy Saville.
Saville has become the central figure in a child sex-abuse scandal involving others, who collectively may have abused over 300 victims. Investigations are ongoing, and police have already arrested two further suspects including disgraced rocker Gary Glitter.
The BBC had originally shelved a program with its own investigative allegations against Savile, and Entwistle came under fire for not airing the episode. This same program aired the ill-fated North Wales child abuse scandal a few weeks later.
Chairman of the BBC Trust Lord Chris Patten arrives to speak to journalists outside New Broadcasting House in central London on November 11, 2012. (AFP Photo / Justin Tallis)
BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten also defended Entwistle’s decision, saying his good intentions ultimately undermined him: "He is a very, very good man – cerebral, decent, honorable and brave. And I'm afraid this would have overwhelmed a lot of people with those sorts of skills.”
Many have also called for Lord Patten to resign. Patten rebuffed the claims, saying the BBC will “look and feel very different after the management overhaul” to come, and is already looking to see who the next director general of the BBC will be.
Although the news channel is seen by many as being in deep crisis and effectively leaderless, Patten said the BBC still performs a needed public service, and must have the self-confidence to continue carrying out investigative journalism.
Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday morning, Lord Patten said, “We want to make sure that Newsnight and other programmes are properly managed.” It would be "very sad" to give up Newsnight, he continued, indicating it too needed an overhaul to make sure it has a grip on its content.
However, Ten Downing Street issued a statement on Sunday supporting the BBC and Lord Patten. British media reports that sources close to the Prime Minister said he regards the BBC as "one of the great institutions of this country" and believes it has the capacity to reform itself and address its failings.