BBC director general resigns over "shoddy journalism"

LONDON Sat Nov 10, 2012 5:12pm EST

Former BBC director general George Entwistle speaks to the members of the media after appearing before a Culture and Media Committee hearing at Parliament in London October 23, 2012. REUTERS/Andrew Winning

Former BBC director general George Entwistle speaks to the members of the media after appearing before a Culture and Media Committee hearing at Parliament in London October 23, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Andrew Winning

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LONDON (Reuters) - BBC Director General George Entwistle resigned on Saturday, just two months into the job, after the state-funded broadcaster put out a program denounced by the corporation's chairman as shoddy journalism.

The BBC, reeling from revelations that one of its former stars was a paedophile, brought further problems on its head when a flagship news program aired a mistaken allegation that a former senior politician sexually abused children.

The BBC had already issued a full apology on Friday, but on Saturday its director general had to admit under questioning from his own journalists that he had not known in advance about the Newsnight report, weeks after being accused of being too hands-off over the previous scandal on the same program.

Accepting Entwistle's resignation, BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten said: "This is undoubtedly one of the saddest evenings of my public life.

"At the heart of the BBC is its role as a trusted global news organization.

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

Entwistle quit after strong criticism over the Newsnight program.

"I listened to the director general with increasing disbelief," John Whittingdale, chairman of parliament's powerful media committee, told Reuters. "The level of failure of management at every level within the BBC, up to and including the director general, is just extraordinary."

The BBC and its bosses have been under huge pressure since a rival broadcaster carried charges last month that the late Jimmy Savile, one of the most recognizable personalities on British television in the 1970s and 80s, was a prolific sex offender.

EXPOSE WITHDRAWN

Suggestions have surfaced of a paedophile ring inside the broadcaster at the time and a BBC cover-up. To complicate matters for Entwistle, Newsnight pulled a planned expose of Savile shortly after his death last year, and the BBC went ahead with tribute shows.

Having been widely criticized for not broadcasting that expose, which led to its editor stepping aside, Newsnight is now being lambasted for its November 2 report on sexual abuse at children's care homes in North Wales during the 1970s.

Steve Messham, a witness, told Newsnight that a senior Conservative had raped him when he was a child in one of the homes.

Newsnight did not identify the politician, but the name of Alistair McAlpine, Conservative Party treasurer from 1975 to 1990 during Margaret Thatcher's premiership, quickly appeared on the Internet and social media sites.

On Friday, McAlpine went public to rigorously deny the allegations and threaten legal action.

Hours later, Messham said he had misidentified McAlpine to Newsnight. The program admitted it had not approached McAlpine for a comment, or shown Messham a picture of McAlpine, before airing the report.

Castigated for what he agreed was a slow response to the Savile disclosures, Entwistle demanded a report on the incident by Sunday and suspended all Newsnight investigations.

The erroneous Newsnight report had been cleared by senior managers and lawyers, and commentators queried why Entwistle had been kept in the dark in the wake of the furore over Savile.

(Editing by Stephen Powell)

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Comments (6)
AZWarrior wrote:
Just as in my country, everything would be just fine if those who report the news just left out their personal emotions and prejudices. The news should not try to be a ratings driven entity. You should expect better, especially if the news is in anyway related to the national government.

Nov 10, 2012 5:39pm EST  --  Report as abuse
tougar wrote:
Agree. Shoddy journalism is not exclusive to the BBC. It pervades all media.

Nov 10, 2012 5:59pm EST  --  Report as abuse
Ras-Mitat wrote:
“Chickens coming home to roost!”

In today’s profit driven news market, BBC and CNN have long seized to be trustworthy source for factual news. Especially in developing regions such as Africa, outright false reports are aired, such as the “Ethiopia Live-Aid money diverted for guns” story, which led Sir Bob Geldof to demand and receive public apology from BBC. Might as well sell the BBC to Rupert Murdoch, makes no difference in news content.

Nov 10, 2012 6:13pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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