* BBC chief takes blame, broadcaster's reputation at stake
* Government says resignation is correct decision
* Criticism grew over sex abuse scandal and false report
By Michael Holden and Kate Holton
LONDON, Nov 11 BBC director general George
Entwistle has resigned just two months into the job, after the
state-funded broadcaster aired mistaken allegations of child sex
abuse against a former leading politician.
The BBC was already reeling from revelations that a
long-time star presenter had been a paedophile, and the
conspicuous failure to apply normal journalistic standards was
the last thing it needed.
The broadcaster issued a full apology on Friday, but early
on Saturday Entwistle 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 a previous scandal involving the same programme.
By Saturday evening Entwistle was announcing his
resignation, saying the unacceptable standards of the Newsnight
film had damaged the public's confidence in the 90-year-old BBC.
"As the director general of the BBC, I am ultimately
responsible for all content as the editor-in-chief, and I have
therefore decided that the honourable thing for me to do is to
step down," he said.
Entwistle succeeded Mark Thompson, set to take over as chief
executive of the New York Times Co, in September and
almost immediately faced one of the biggest crises in the
history of the BBC, funded by a licence fee paid by TV viewers.
This was the revelation by rival broadcaster ITV last month
that the late Jimmy Savile, one of the most recognisable
personalities on British television in the 1960s, 70s and 80s,
had sexually abused young girls, some on BBC premises.
Suggestions have surfaced of a paedophile ring inside the
BBC at the time, and a cover-up. Police have launched an inquiry
and detectives said they had arrested their third suspect on
Sunday, a man in his 70s from Cambridgeshire in central England.
Former glam rocker Gary Glitter and comedian Freddie Starr
have already been questioned and released on bail.
Entwistle was condemned for the BBC's slow response to the
Savile furore and then lambasted after it emerged that Newsnight
had axed a planned expose into Savile shortly after his death
and that the broadcaster had gone ahead with tributes instead.
His appearance before a parliamentary committee provoked
mockery, with one lawmaker saying he had shown a "lamentable
lack of knowledge" of what was going on at his own organisation.
Thompson has also had to explain what he knew about the
Savile episode and has faced questions from staff at the New
York Times over whether he is still the right person to take one
of the biggest jobs in American newspaper publishing.
The knives were out for Entwistle on Friday after the BBC
apologised for the mistaken allegation that an ex-politician,
later identified on the Internet as a close ally of former prime
minister Margaret Thatcher, had abused children.
The last straw came when he was forced to admit on the BBC
morning news that he had not known - or asked - who the alleged
abuser was until the name appeared in social media.
"He showed no sign of being in control the first time (over
the Savile issue) and this morning's interview on the Today
programme, I think, was fatal, because it happened again," said
Steve Hewlett, a media consultant and former BBC editor.
"You could forgive him for the Savile situation, he could
have survived that if he'd shown he was on top of this
situation, and he didn't," Hewlett told Reuters.
Politicians said Entwistle's decision was right because it
appeared that under him the BBC, long affectionately known as
"Auntie" and widely respected in many parts of the world, was
systematically incapable of addressing its failings.
"It is vital that credibility and public trust in this
important national institution is restored," Culture Secretary
Maria Miller said in a statement. "It is now crucial that the
BBC puts the systems in place to ensure it can make first class
news and current affairs programmes."
John Whittingdale, chairman of parliament's powerful media
committee, said the crisis had hurt public trust and confidence,
and Entwistle's departure did not spell the end of the matter.
"There are still a lot of questions which need answering.
Who did take the decision to approve that (Newsnight) programme
because quite plainly it was a deeply flawed decision," he said.
The crisis at the BBC is the latest drama to hit the British
media industry after two years of soul-searching sparked by a
phone-hacking scandal at Rupert Murdoch's newspaper empire.
Any allegations of lack of integrity are serious for a
broadcaster that is widely respected and funded by the public. A
judge-led inquiry into media standards prompted by the
illegality at a Murdoch tabloid is due to be published soon.
Chris Patten, head of the BBC governing body and a prominent
political figure, said accepting Entwistle's resignation had
made for one of the saddest nights of his public life.
"George has very honourably offered us his resignation
because of the unacceptable mistakes and the unacceptable shoddy
journalism which has caused so much controversy," said Patten.
"He has behaved as editor with huge honour and courage and
would that the rest of the world always behaved the same."
Patten announced that Tim Davie, the BBC's director of Audio
and Music, would be the acting director general.