Crisis at BBC as Director General resigns

Editor | 11-11-2012

After only 54 days in his job as the head of the world’s pre-eminent English language broadcasting organisation, George Entwistle has tendered his resignation as Director General of the BBC.

Entwhistle resigned after a series of editorial blunders by flagship news programme Newsnight, which saw the shelving of a programme that would have revealed BBC legend Jimmy Savile as a paedophile and, in what really sealed the DG’s fate, wrongly implicated a former leading politician in the Thatcher government as a child abuser.

On 9 November the BBC was forced to make an on-air apology for a Newsnight broadcast that looked into criticism of a North Wales Abuse Tribunal which included an interview with an abuse victim who said that a senior political figure of the time had abused him. The BBC had the claim but did not identify the individual concerned. The victim subsequently made a statement that makes clear he wrongly identified his abuser and apologised for his actions.

In between these events, the corporation was still reeling from a disastrous performance by Entwistle in front of the UK’s House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee, which had in the summer savaged News Corp executives, in particular James Murdoch, and had left the BBC chief appearing as someone not suited to his role.

Explaining why he had fallen on his sword, Entwistle said that as Director General he was also the Editor-in-Chief and ultimately responsible for all content and that in the light of what he called “unacceptable journalistic standards” of the Newsnight film broadcast on Friday 2 November, which actually did not name but led to the accusation of abuse by the former leading politician, he felt that “the honourable thing to do” was to quit.

He added: “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. However, the wholly exceptional events of the past few weeks have led me to conclude that the BBC should appoint a new leader. To have been the Director General of the BBC even for a short period, and in the most challenging of circumstances, has been a great honour. While there is understandable public concern over a number of issues well covered in the media - which I’m confident will be addressed by the Review process - we must not lose sight of the fact that the BBC is full of people of the greatest talent and the highest integrity. That’s what will continue to make it the finest broadcaster in the world.”

Accepting the resignation, BBC Trust Chairman Lord Patten added: "This is undoubtedly one of the saddest evenings of my public life. George Entwistle worked for the BBC for 23 years. He exemplifies the finest values of public service broadcasting. At the heart of the BBC is its role as a trusted global news organisation, and as the Editor-in-Chief of this organisation, George has very honourably offered us his resignation because of the unacceptable mistakes and the unacceptable shoddy journalism which has caused so much controversy. He has behaved as Editor with huge honour and courage and would that the rest of the world always behaved the same. George was set on putting in place a number of reforms and changes which will be required in this great organisation and it is a real tragedy that he has been overwhelmed by these events, as we all were to a great extent, before he was able to act in a way that was clearly necessary.”

Current director of audio and music and soon to be head of BBC Worldwide Tim Davie will assume temporary charge as acting Director-General while the BBC begins the process of agreeing on a permanent successor.