George Entwistle, the Director General of the BBC, has resigned following a report on Newsnight, an acclaimed BBC current affairs show, which falsely accused a former British Politician, Lord McAlpine, of child abuse.
In a brief statement outside Broadcasting House, Entwistle said that he had decided to do the “honourable thing” and step down from his post.
“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.”
The chairman of the BBC Trust, Lord Patten, said it was “one of the saddest evenings of my public life”.
These “wholly exceptional events” are initially, the Jimmy Savile child abuse scandal, and more recently (and simultaneously), a Newsnight broadcast accusing a former British politician, Lord McAlpine, of child abuse.
Shortly after the broadcast was aired, The Guardian reported a case of mistaken identity. And to make matters worse for the BBC, the child abuse victim retracted the allegation after being shown a photograph of McAlpine. Newsnight and the BBC issued a public apology about the story on the 9th November airing of the show.
In an interview on Radio 4, Entwistle admitted he had been unaware that Newsnight was going to broadcast the accusatory report. He said: “I found out about this film after it had gone out. 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.”
While Entwistle, as Director General and Editor-in-Chief of the BBC, has probably done the right thing by stepping down. There are numerous people involved in the chain of command that are equally responsible and should accept responsibility publicly. This will raise serious questions about how the BBC is run currently – essentially as a plethora of independent businesses, shows and brands – and should force dramatic changes, fast.
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