BBC Director General George Entwistle has announced his resignation, after a BBC Newsnight film wrongly implicated an ex-senior Tory Peer in the child sex abuse scandal at a Welsh children’s home.
Mr Entwistle’s resignation brings to an end the shortest period of anyone as the Director General of the BBC, coming just 54 days after he replaced former DG Mark Thompson.
It followed an extraordinary day in which the editor in chief of the BBC admitted to not being aware in advance of the Newsnight broadcast in which senior Tory peer Lord McAlpine was implicated in a paedophile scandal surrounding the North Wales care home.
Speaking in a BBC Radio 4 interview with John Humphrys, the Director General also admitted that he had not been aware of front page newspaper headlines that called into question the claims made in the Newsnight programme.
Responding tonight outside the BBC HQ at New Broadcasting House, Head of the BBC Trust Lord Patten spoke of “unacceptable mistakes” and “unacceptable shoddy journalism”.
Mr Entwistle’s short tenure coincided with revelations of child abuse and allegations of rape on BBC premises during the 70s and 80s that led to arrests following claims against presenter Jimmy Savile and others, including BBC employees.
Prior to last week’s Newsnight broadcast, Mr Entwistle was criticised after it emerged that the BBC had shelved an investigative programme into allegations against Savile. The BBC Chief faced claims that the cancellation of the programme was due to tribute programmes that the BBC had already scheduled to be broadcast at Christmas.
It subsequently emerged that Savile had been abusing youngsters on BBC premises for decades despite concerns about his behaviour being widespread within the organisation.
Entwistle was then forced to apologise after it emerged that reasons given for the original Newsnight cancellation were exposed as being false, despite them having been published for weeks prior to the apology.
The North Wales paedophile broadcast has led to accusations of systematic editorial failure at the highest levels of the BBC. The programme was apparently cleared for broadcast despite going through the all levels of the BBC and considered by the board of management, on which Entwistle himself sat.
The BBC is now in a major crisis with the public losing trust in the institution. In October when the Savile scandal was breaking, and prior to the latest Newsnight paedophile debacle, a survey on behalf of Radio 5 Live suggested that trust in the BBC had plummeted.
The telephone survey by Comres found that only 45% of respondents now thought the BBC was “trustworthy”. This is in contrast to a poll in 2009 in which 62% of people felt the BBC was a trusted source.
The poll also indicated that nearly two thirds of people believed that the BBC had suffered long lasting damage.
This latest episode will not have helped the BBC repair damage to its already tarnished reputation and there are already suggestions that more resignations will follow the decision by Mr Entwistle to stand down.
According to SKY news, BBC presenter Jeremy Paxman is said to be considering his future at the corporation as a result of the growing controversy.
In a series of tweets, the Newsnight presenter said: “George Entwistle’s departure is a great shame. He has been brought low by cowards and incompetents.
“The real problem here is the BBC’s decision, in the wake of the Hutton Inquiry, to play safe by appointing biddable people. They then compounded the problem by enforcing a series of cuts on programme budgets, while bloating the management. That is how you arrive at the current mess on Newsnight.”
In a scathing atack on BBC standards, Paxman added: “I very much doubt the problem is unique to that programme. I had hoped that George might stay to sort this out. It is a great pity that a talented man has been sacrificed, while time-servers prosper.
“I shall not be issuing any further statements or doing any interviews.”
Tim Davie has been installed as acting Director General of the BBC.