'Newsnight's' false allegations ended Entwistle's run atop pubcaster
More bloodletting at the BBC looks inevitable following Saturday’s shock resignation of director-general George Entwistle over what his boss, Chris Patten, described as the pubcaster’s “shoddy journalism.”
Patten, chairman of the BBC Trust, which represents the interests of U.K. license fee payers, moved Sunday to secure his own job and steady nerves at the Beeb, rocked by the latest row over its flagship public affairs show, “Newsnight,” which falsely implied that a British politician was guilty of child abuse.
The Nov. 2 show did not name the pol, referring to him only as active in the Thatcher era of the 1980s. But his identity, Alistair McAlpine, who became Lord McAlpine in 1984, was widely publicized on the Internet.
“Newsnight’s” story was undercut when a key source subsequently retracted evidence.
Entwistle, director-general of the BBC for just 55 days, ankled following an interrogation on BBC Radio 4’s “Today” program on Saturday in which he admitted he was unaware that “Newsnight” was about to run the story.
The latest scandal follows recent revelations that “Newsnight” dumped a probe into the late BBC star Jimmy Savile, who is accused of being a serial child molester during his long tenure with the pubcaster.
Savile is alleged to have had sex with underage girls on BBC premises over several decades dating back to the 1970s.
Patten, who appointed Entwistle in July, said he had accepted the director general’s resignation “because of the unacceptable mistakes — the unacceptable shoddy journalism — which has caused us so much controversy.”
The Trust chair appears to be safe in his job for now despite calls from pols and newspapers for him to follow Entwistle out of Broadcasting House.
Former culture minister David Mellor, like Patten a member of the Conservative Party, suggested that the exec should think about resigning.
Mellor said: “I feel so disillusioned that such a man can rise without trace to be director general. He came across as so out of touch, it made me think Winnie the Pooh would have been more effective.
“The other failure is the judgment of my dear friend Chris Patten for appointing him. He’s got a lot of explaining to do.”
Up to six more BBC execs stand to lose their jobs as crisis at the pubcaster intensifies following the latest “Newsnight” embarrassment.
They include head of news Helen Boaden and her deputy Stephen Mitchell.
Patten has upped the new head of BBC Worldwide, Tim Davie, to acting director general.
He said a new leader would be appointed within weeks and that the BBC needed a “radical structural overhaul.”
One option would be to split the director general’s responsibilities and hire a CEO and editor-in-chief. At present the director general fulfills both roles.
Finding a new director-general could be problematic. “There is a shortage of suitably qualified executives at the BBC,” said an insider.
One potential candidate is the man who oversaw this year’s widely praised BBC Olympics coverage, Roger Mosey, currently acting head of BBC Vision.
The head of U.K. media regulator Ofcom, Ed Richards, who applied for the job earlier this year, cannot be ruled out.
Another potential successor is Caroline Thomson, the ex-BBC chief operating officer who also was in the running for the director-general post. She stepped down in September.
(Leo Barraclough contributed to this report.)