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BBC director-general quits over false child abuse report

November 11, 2012 11:24 IST

The director-general of the BBC George Entwistle has resigned a day after it emerged that it's flagship current affairs programme wrongly accused a former Conservative politician of child sex abuse.

The news was announced by Entwistle and BBC Trust Chairman Lord Patten in a statement outside Broadcasting House.

According to BBC, Entwistle said the "wholly exceptional" events of last week had convinced him to do the "honourable thing" and stand down.

"When appointed to the role, with 23 years' experience as a producer and leader at the BBC, I was confident the trustees had chosen the best candidate for the post, and the right person to tackle the challenges and opportunities ahead," he said.

"However the wholly exceptional events of the past few weeks have led me to conclude that the BBC should appoint a new leader."

Lord Patten said the new acting director general would be Tim Davie, adding that Entwistle's resignation was "one of the saddest evenings of my public life".

"At the heart of the BBC is its role as a trusted global news organisation," said Patten.

"As the editor in chief of that news organisation George has very honourably offered us his resignation because of the unacceptable mistakes -- the unacceptable shoddy journalism -- which has caused us so much controversy."

Following news of the resignation, Culture Secretary Maria Miller said: "It is a regrettable but the right decision. It is vital that credibility and public trust in this important national institution is restored.

"It is now crucial that the BBC puts the systems in place to ensure it can make first class news and current affairs programmes." a day of heavy criticism which saw the director general mauled on the Radio 4's Today programme by John Humphreys, who probed the recently appointed editor-in-chief as to why he hadn't taken more of an interest into the programme's output, particularly in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal.

Entwistle told Humphreys: "In the light of what has happened here I wish this was referred to me, but it wasn't. I found out about the film the following day."

In a brutal examination of his boss's failings, Humphrey barked: "So there is no natural curiosity, you wait for somebody to come along to you and say 'Excuse me director general, but this is happening and you may be interested'?"

"You don't look for yourself, you don't do what everybody else in the country does, read newspapers, listen to everything that's going on and say 'What's happening here?'"

Labour deputy leader and shadow culture secretary Harriet Harman waded into the row, emphasising that something had gone "badly wrong" at Newsnight.

"The director general only took over the leadership of the BBC eight weeks ago, but he needs to show decisively that he is addressing the systemic problems which are in evidence here," she said.

Throughout the day, pundits and politicians lined up to point out the failings of the programme, its staff and the director-general, including a broadside from parliamentary culture select committee chairman John Whittingdale, who slammed the BBC chief's "extraordinary lack of curiosity" in Newsnight's investigations.

During his savaging on the Today programme, Entwistle apologised for Newsnight's investigation leading to the incorrect "outing" of Lord McAlpine as the senior Tory paedophile, calling the reports "unacceptable", and announcing he would look into the affair and that he had "taken clear and decisive action to start to find out what happened and put things right".

H S Rao in London
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