Director General George Entwistle steps down over 'Newsnight' debacle

LONDON

Chris Patten, chairman of the BBC’s governing body, the BBC Trust, said Sunday that the U.K. pubcaster’s new director-general would be appointed within weeks after George Entwistle quit after less than two months on the job.

Entwistle, a 23-year BBC vet, quit Saturday following a series of disastrous missteps related to the Beeb’s news coverage of sexual molestation allegations leveled at the late BBC presenter Jimmy Savile and a separate child abuse scandal involving a senior Conservative Party politician.

Patten said the BBC needed a “radical structural overhaul,” and that one option would be to split the director general’s responsibilities as chief exec and editor-in-chief.

Patten has named Tim Davie as acting director-general. Davie is director of BBC audio and music, a role in which he has responsibility for the BBC’s radio network. Davie had been set to become the new CEO of BBC Worldwide, the pubcaster’s commercial arm, in December following his appointment in October.

Entwistle, who was appointed as BBC chief in July, was lambasted in early October when it emerged that an investigation by flagship news analysis show “Newsnight” into the alleged sexual abuse of children by Savile had been ditched in questionable circumstances. It was suspected that pressure from senior execs had been brought to bear to kill the allegations as the BBC had been planning a series of tribute shows to Savile. This had happened at a time when Entwistle, as director of BBC Vision, was in charge of the BBC’s television output.

Entwistle and the BBC again came under fire on Nov. 2 when “Newsnight” falsely alleged that Conservative Party pol Alistair McAlpine had been part of a pedophile ring.

Entwistle’s coup de grace came Saturday when he was interviewed by John Humphrys, widely acknowledged as being the BBC’s most ferocious journalist, on radio program “Today.” Entwistle admitted he hadn’t been aware of the allegations that “Newsnight” were planning to make about McAlpine until after the show had aired.

In his resignation statement, Entwistle said: “In the light of the fact that the director general is also the editor-in-chief and ultimately responsible for all content; and in the light of the unacceptable journalistic standards of the ‘Newsnight’ film broadcast on Friday 2nd November, I have decided that the honorable thing to do is to step down from the post of director general.

Patten said in a statement Saturday: “At the heart of the BBC is its role as a trusted global news organization, and as the editor-in-chief of this organization, George has very honorably offered us his resignation because of the unacceptable mistakes and the unacceptable shoddy journalism which has caused so much controversy.”

He added that the Trust would begin the process of agreeing on a permanent successor immediately.

It is likely that “Newsnight” will be shuttered, and even one of its own presenters, Eddie Mair, has said it is “toast.”

Patten told Sky News on Sunday that he and Davie would discuss the show’s future later that day, but added that “what should survive is investigative journalism.”

Davie came to the BBC in 2005 as director of its marketing, communications and audiences division. Before that he worked as a marketing exec at PepsiCo and Procter and Gamble.

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