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BBC suspends top news execs

U.K. pubcaster in state of crisis

LONDON

Two more senior BBC executives have been suspended in the escalating “Newsnight” row that led to director general George Entwistle’s resignation at the weekend.

Head of news Helen Boaden and her deputy, Stephen Mitchell, have stepped aside “to address the lack of clarity around the editorial chain of command,” said the pubcaster.

The latest moves are related to the BBC’s original inquiry into why U.K. public affairs show “Newsnight” abandoned a probe into the Beeb’s late star presenter Jimmy Savile, accused of being a serial child molester, a year ago.

Relieving Boaden and Mitchell of their day-to-day duties is not thought to be connected to the Nov. 2 “Newsnight” allegations that former politician Alistair McAlpine, who became Lord McAlpine in 1984, was also implicated in child abuse.

The McAlpine story subsequently proved to be untrue and forced Entwistle’s exit on Saturday.

In a statement the BBC said, “To address the lack of clarity around the editorial chain of command, a decision has been taken to re-establish a single management to deal with all output, Savile-related or otherwise.”

It added that Boaden had decided she could not undertake this responsibility until the review into the Savile-“Newsnight” scandal reports later this month.

The statement continues, “Consideration is now being given to the extent to which individuals should be asked to account further for their actions and, if appropriate, disciplinary action will be taken.”

“Newsnight” editor Peter Rippon was suspended three weeks ago.

BBC Trust chairman Chris Patten, who represents U.K. licence fee payers, is under increasing pressure to save his own job.

Patten’s position looked weaker after it emerged that the BBC Trust had agreed to pay Entwistle a full year’s salary of £450,000 ($715,000) in lieu of notice — despite only being in the job for 54 days.

Prime Minister David Cameron and culture secretary Maria Miller joined several pols criticizing the pay out.

She said it was “tough to justify considering the circumstances of Mr. Entwistle’s departure and his contractual arrangements.” Miller added that the BBC Trust will need to explain its decision to licence fee payers.

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