"Thorough, radical, structural overhaul" of the organisation needed, says Lord Patten
The BBC was on Sunday likened by one of its veteran broadcasters to “a rudderless ship heading towards the rocks” after its new Director General George Entwistle was forced to resign over his handling of a report falsely implicating a former adviser to the former Tory Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, in a child abuse scandal.
Mr. Entwistle, who had been in office for just 54 days, quit after Prime Minister David Cameron warned against a “witch-hunt” over sex abuse allegations and Chris Patten, chairman of the BBC Trust, called the report “shoddy journalism” amid calls for his own resignation.
The controversial report, telecast on the BBC’s flagship current affairs programme Newsnight on November 2, was based on an interview with a man called Steve Messham who claimed that he had been abused by a Tory grandee in a north Wales care home during the 1970s.
The report did not name anybody but appeared to point towards Robert Alistair McAlpine (now Lord McAlpine), a former Tory party treasurer and adviser to Ms. Thatcher. Soon the Internet was buzzing with messages mentioning his name. Lord McAlpine dismissed the allegation as “wholly false and seriously defamatory” and threatened to sue the BBC.
Mr. Messham, meanwhile, admitted that he had been mistaken and apologised to Lord McAlpine.
Mr. Entwistle’s fate was sealed when in a shambolic interview on BBC’s Today programme, he admitted that he had been unaware of Newsnight allegations, giving the impression of a man totally out of his depth. Within hours, he was standing outside Broadcasting House in central London to announce his resignation.
With Lord Patten by his side, Mr. Entwistle said that as the man “ultimately responsible for all content, and in the light of the unacceptable journalistic standards” at Newsnight, he had decided that “the honourable thing to do is to step down from the post of director general.”
Lord Patten called for a “thorough, radical, structural overhaul” of the BBC and said that a new director-general would be appointed within weeks.
The row came as the BBC was already facing criticism for suppressing a Newsnight investigation into a sex abuse scandal allegedly involving late Jimmy Savile, once one of its most pampered celebrity performers.
The programme was axed at the last minute, allegedly to avoid a clash with BBC’s Christmas tribute to Savile — two months after his death last October.