Barely eight weeks into the job, George Entwistle has stepped down as BBC’s top executive after one of the broadcaster’s flagship current affairs programmes wrongly implicated a former Conservative politician in a paedophile scandal involving children’s care homes in Wales.
Bowing to widespread criticism, 50-year-old Entwistle resigned as the Director General of the BBC, saying that the “wholly exceptional” events of last week had convinced him to do the “honourable thing” and stand down.
The news was announced by Entwistle and BBC Trust Chairman Lord Patten in a statement outside Broadcasting House, the BBC’s new billion-dollar headquarters in central London.
Entwistle had admitted BBC’s Newsnight programme’s report — which led to Thatcher-era Tory Lord Alistair McAlpine being wrongly implicated — should not have been aired.
“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,” Entwistle said. “However the wholly exceptional events of the past few weeks have led me to conclude that the BBC should appoint a new leader.”
Lord Patten said the new acting director general would be Tim Davie, adding that Entwistle’s resignation was “one of the saddest evenings of my public life".
He said Entwistle had behaved as editor with huge honour and courage.
The BBC Director General stepped down in the wake of criticism over a Newsnight report that had focused on allegations of abuses by a senior Conservative politician in the 1970s and 1980s at children’s homes in north Wales. The broadcaster did not name the politician but online rumors focused on Lord McAlpine, who has reportedly threatened to sue.
Entwistle’s resignation follows a day of heavy criticism which saw the BBC Director- General being mauled on the Radio 4’s Today programme by John Humphreys, who probed the recently appointed Editor-in-Chief as to why he had not taken more of an interest into the programme’s output, particularly in the wake of the scandal involving Jimmy Savile.
Savile, a longtime BBC TV host who died last year, was suspected of having sexually abused perhaps hundreds of young people over the course of decades, including sometimes on BBC premises. The broadcaster has been accused of covering up the accusations by cancelling a Newsnight report on Savile.
During his savaging on the Today programme, Entwistle apologised for Newsnight's probe leading to the incorrect “outing” of Lord McAlpine as the senior Tory paedophile, calling the reports “unacceptable” and announcing he would look into the affair and that he had “taken clear and decisive action to start to find out what happened and put things right“.
Following news of Entwistle’s resignation, Culture Secretary Maria Miller said: “It is a regrettable but the right decision. It is vital that credibility and public trust in this important national institution is restored. It is now crucial that the BBC puts the systems in place to ensure it can make first class news and current affairs programmes.”
Entwistle had faced an uncertain future after being engulfed by the latest scandal to blight the broadcaster’s flagship Newsnight programme.
Last evening, Labour deputy leader and shadow culture secretary Harriet Harman waded into the row, emphasising that something had gone “badly wrong” at Newsnight.
“The Director General only took over the leadership of the BBC eight weeks ago, but he needs to show decisively that he is addressing the systemic problems which are in evidence here,” she said.
Throughout the day, pundits and politicians lined up to point out the failings of the programme, its staff and the Director General, including a broadside from parliamentary culture select committee chairman John Whittingdale, who slammed the BBC chief’s “extraordinary lack of curiosity” in Newsnight’s investigations.
Jonathan Dimbleby, one of the BBC’s most revered journalists, was quoted as saying that he fears the corporation resembles a “rudderless ship heading towards the rocks.”