The future of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), which has been at the centre of the Jimmy Savile sex row in recent months, has been thrown into disarray by the resignation of the broadcaster’s director-general amid further allegations of incompetence and “shoddy journalism.”
George Entwistle resigned on Saturday evening after only 54 days in the job, while on Monday it was confirmed that the corporation’s director of news, Helen Boaden, and her deputy, Stephen Mitchell have temporarily “stepped aside” from their posts at the BBC.
The decisions come in the wake of the ongoing Jimmy Savile sex scandal story, which has resulted in a major crisis at the corporation.
The allegations surrounding Savile came to light two weeks after Entwistle took the role of director-general, and these, combined with a major mistake by the corporation’s Newsnight programme in recent weeks, have led to him quitting his post.
On November 9, Newsnight apologised for wrongly implicating senior political figure, Lord McAlpine in a case of sex abuse at a children’s home through a report broadcast a week earlier, and Entwistle said he felt the need to accept responsibility for the “unacceptable journalistic standards of the Newsnight film.”
However, it has been suggested that his resignation stems from his failure to exert control over the BBC after displaying what one MP described as an ‘extraordinary lack of curiosity” about the initial Newsnight report into claims about Savile, which was dropped last year.
The report was dropped at the same time as the corporation was working on a Savile Christmas tribute, which Entwistle had approved as head of BBC Vision.
This, along with the admission that he was unaware of the content of Friday’s report until it was broadcast, combined to make Entwistle’s position untenable.
Entwistle has been at the BBC for 23 years, and had worked on investigative programme Panorama, before moving to Newsnight, where he became editor. He worked in various other roles before being appointed to director of BBC Vision in 2011 which preceded his ill-fated appointment to the role of director-general.
He has reportedly been presented with a £450,000 pay off, which has received widespread criticism, including from a number of MP’s.
According to the BBC website: “The director of news has overall editorial and managerial responsibility for UK-wide and global news and current affairs on radio, television and online.”
The broadcaster confirmed that neither of the pair “had anything at all to do with the failed investigation into Lord McAlpine.” However, they were both involved in the chain of command when the initial investigation into Jimmy Savile was shelved.
Former head of Sky News, Nick Pollard is currently conducting an investigation into that decision, and while they had removed themselves from a number of decision-making responsibilities while the inquiry was carried out, the decision has now been made for them to leave their roles.
Director of BBC Scotland, Keen MacQuarrie explained: “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.”
“Helen Boaden has decided that she is not in a position to undertake this responsibility until the Pollard review has concluded,” he said, adding “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.”
However, he confirmed that both Boaden and Mitchell are expected to return to their positions following the investigation.
Former director of BBC Audio and Music, Tim Davie has been appointed as acting director-general, while Fra Unsworth, head of newsgathering and Ceri Thomas, editor of BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme have been appointed to Boaden and Mitchell’s respective roles.
Journalists worried about BBC’s future
Senior journalists have expressed their concerns about the future of the organisation and the impact of the recent scandals.
Jonathan Dimbleby said the BBC was "like a rudderless ship heading towards the rocks.” However he did pay tribute to Entwistle, describing him as a “thoroughly decent man” who had been let down by others at the BBC.
“Clearly, George was at the receiving end of nothing when he should have been knowing everything,” he said.
Chairman of the BBC Trust, Chris Patten who appointed Entwistle, paid tribute to the outgoing director-general, describing him as a “very, very good man - cerebral, decent, honourable, brave."
Patten added that the BBC requires a “thorough, structural, radical overhaul” in light of recent revelations.
Davie promised to take steps to re-establish trust in the BBC’s broadcasting: "If the public are going to get journalism they trust from the BBC I have to be, as director general, very clear on who is running the news operation and ensuring that journalism we put out passes muster.”
"The first decision I have made is to get a grip of that, take action and build trust by putting a clear line of command in,” he added.
Source: BBC, AFP.