Reports uncover serious management errors

LONDON

The BBC was left reeling Wednesday following the publication of scathing reports into the management of twin disasters at flagship news analysis show “Newsnight.”

BBC deputy director of news Steve Mitchell has resigned while “Newsnight” editor Peter Rippon and deputy editor Liz Gibbons will be moved to unspecified positions within the BBC, acting director general Tim Davie said Wednesday.

The personnel changes are part of reforms of the BBC’s management culture prompted by two reports: an independent review conducted by former Sky News head Nick Pollard into allegations the BBC attempted to suppress a “Newsnight” probe into sexual abuse by former TV presenter Jimmy Savile; and an internal review by Ken MacQuarrie, the director of BBC Scotland, into a Nov. 2 edition of the program that led to retired politician Alistair McAlpine being falsely identified as a pedophile.

The Pollard report, which identified “serious failings in editorial oversight and management control,” is highly critical of key BBC personnel, including George Entwistle, who stepped down as director general following the November program, and director of news Helen Boaden, who thus far remains untouched by the restructuring.

“These were clearly very challenging times in the BBC, but it is in those times that leadership is required,” said Pollard, “In my view, the most worrying aspect of the Jimmy Savile story for the BBC was not the decision to drop the story itself, it was the complete inability to deal with the events that followed.”

Pollard’s report recommended a review of the BBC’s news and editorial management, starting at the top.

“I question whether the director general’s status as editor-in-chief is of continuing utility,” said Pollard. “The role brings ultimate responsibility without the practical ability to step in at an early enough stage to make a significant difference if required.”

He continued, “It is not the case that everything in BBC News management needs to be reviewed. There have been two immensely damaging failures in Savile and McAlpine, with the first paving the way for the second, but BBC News has continued to do outstanding work.”

The report, which cost close to £2 million ($3.3 million), took nine weeks to compile and reviewed more than 10,000 emails and documents, and conducted interviews with 19 individuals involved.

Pollard concluded that while the decision to abandon the proble into Savile was flawed and the way it was taken was wrong, it was done in good faith and not as the result of pressure from management seeking to protect planned tribute programming to the presenter.

MacQuarrie concluded that basic journalistic checks on “Newsnight’s” MacAlpine story were not applied and the decision to broadcast it was wrong.

At the time, the show’s senior execs had been removed following the Savile row and BBC Radio 5 Live controller Adrian Van Klaveren had been given oversight of “Newsnight.” He will be moved to a senior non-news position.

BBC Trust chairman Chris Patten said, “We accept (Pollard’s) report and the recommendations it makes, without reservation, in their entirety.”

Patten said the BBC would publish all documentation received from Pollard in January.

Fiona Reynolds, BBC senior independent director, said the broadcaster would develop a plan to address the management culture after new director general, Tony Hall, arrives in March.

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