Source : New York Times
After weeks of turmoil over the BBC’s coverage of a spreading pedophile scandal, the broadcaster’s director general, George Entwistle, resigned on Saturday night, bowing to a wave of condemnation by critics including a longtime BBC television anchor, who depicted him as having lost control of “a rudderless ship heading towards the rocks.”
Mr. Entwistle’s sudden departure as the BBC’s chief executive was prompted by outrage over a report last week on “Newsnight,” one of the network’s flagship current affairs programs, that wrongly implicated a former Conservative Party politician in a pedophile scandal involving a children’s home in Wales.
Mr. Entwistle said the report, broadcast on Nov. 2, reflected “unacceptable journalistic standards” and never should have been broadcast.
That broadcast has only compounded the problems facing the network since the revelation last month that a longtime BBC television host, Jimmy Savile, was suspected of having sexually abused perhaps hundreds of young people over the course of decades, sometimes on the BBC premises. The network has been accused of covering up the accusations by canceling a Newsnight report on Mr. Savile last year, when Mr. Entwistle was a senior executive at the network.
Mr. Entwistle was barely two months into the director’s job, heading one of the world’s largest media organizations. His departure followed the suspension in the past month of a number of senior producers as the BBC has struggled to find a path through what many commentators have described as its greatest crisis in decades.
A 50-year-old career broadcaster who rose through the ranks of BBC producers, Mr. Entwistle made his announcement on the steps of the BBC’s new billion-dollar headquarters in central London. With the BBC’s chairman, Chris Patten, standing gloomily beside him, Mr. Entwistle said that resigning was “the honorable thing to do.”
“The wholly exceptional events of the past few weeks have led me to conclude that the BBC should appoint a new leader,” he said. He added that the intense public scrutiny of the BBC that has resulted from the pedophile scandal should not lead people “to lose sight of the fact that the BBC is full of people of the greatest talent and the highest integrity.”
His statement that he was “responsible for all content” came after weeks of what the BBC’s harshest critics have described as obfuscation and evasion by the broadcaster’s management in the face of demands for explanations of how the fiascoes over the two “Newsnight” programs had been allowed to happen.
As of late as Saturday morning, Mr. Entwistle was holding to the position he had taken for weeks, that he had not known about the Nov. 2 “Newsnight” broadcast ahead of time because of the BBC’s longstanding tradition that the director general not interfere with details of how programs are made. “I found out about this film after it had gone out,” he said. “In the light of what has happened here, I wish that this was referred to me, but it wasn’t.”
His resignation, barely 12 hours later, suggested that the BBC’s trustees had concluded that the argument that the network’s top brass was insulated from responsibility for programming decisions by a lack of prior knowledge was not sustainable.
That argument was similar to the one advanced by Mr. Entwistle’s predecessor, Mark Thompson, who was the BBC’s director general when the “Newsnight” expose on Mr. Savile was canceled. Mr. Thompson, who left the BBC in September and will become the president and chief executive of The New York Times Company on Monday, said he had not been aware of the report until after it was canceled.
Mr. Patten, the BBC chairman, said that Tim Davie, 45, the BBC’s director of audio and music, would become the network’s acting director general.
Mr. Patten, whose own position may now be imperiled, did not attempt to disguise the gravity of the situation, alluding to the “unacceptable mistakes, the unacceptably shoddy journalism” that had culminated in the Nov. 2 “Newsnight” program.
That program focused on allegations of abuses by a senior politician in the 1970s and 1980s at a children’s home in north Wales. The “Newsnight” broadcast did not name the politician but said that it was being widely circulated on the Internet.
On Thursday, The Guardian identified the politician as Alistair McAlpine, a former Conservative Party treasurer, and said that he was the victim of mistaken identity.
Mr. McAlpine, now 70 and in poor health, said Friday that the allegations against him were “wholly false and defamatory” and warned that he planned to sue. Then the man who had made the abuse allegation, Steve Messham, said he had now seen a photo of Mr. McAlpine and was sure that he was not the man who had abused him when he was a child.
In an extensive apology broadcast Friday night, “Newsnight” acknowledged that it had not shown a photograph of Mr. McAlpine to Mr. Messham before interviewing him for the program, and that its investigators had not contacted Mr. McAlpine to give him an opportunity to respond to the allegations.
Mr. Entwistle’s announcement set off a new round of recriminations, including many from well-known journalists at the BBC.
The lead anchor of “Newsnight,” Jeremy Paxman, appeared to lay the blame for the fiasco outside “Newsnight.” In a statement on Twitter, he said Mr. Entwistle had been “brought low by cowards and incompetents” and by a management that enforced deep cuts on program budgets while “bloating” management ranks. “That is how you arrive at the current mess on ‘Newsnight,’ ” he said.
Another well known BBC presenter, Jonathan Dimbleby, spoke of the BBC having become “a rudderless ship.” Will Wyatt, a former managing director of BBC TV, demanded that the BBC management “sort this out quickly, get to the bottom of who said what, and be swift and tough.”