George Entwistle (pictured) has resigned as director-general of UK pubcaster the BBC after less than eight weeks in the job, amid a scandal involving flagship BBC2 current affairs strand ‘Newsnight.’
Entwistle, who replaced Mark Thompson as DG on September 17, resigned this evening (November 10) after ‘Newsnight’ aired a program wrongly implicating former UK Conservative party treasurer Lord McAlpine in child abuse allegations.
In a statement, Entwistle said: “In the light of the fact that the director-general is also the editor-in-chief and ultimately responsible for all content; and in the light of the unacceptable journalistic standards of the ‘Newsnight’ film broadcast on Friday November 2, I have decided that the honorable thing to do is to step down from the post of director-general.
“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.”
Tim Davie, currently director of the BBC’s Audio & Music division and due shortly to become CEO of commercial arm BBC Worldwide, will become acting BBC DG, effective tomorrow (November 11), while the public broadcaster seeks out a new leader.
Entwistle’s resignation came less than 12 hours he gave an interview on BBC Radio 4′s ‘Today’ program in which he admitted to being unaware that ‘Newsnight’ was going to make the allegations it did – allegations the program has subsequently retracted, after a victim featured in the news report subsequently admitted that his naming of the politician as one of his abusers was actually a case of mistaken identity.
Lord McAlpine was not named in the particular episode of ‘Newsnight’ but the program referred to the alleged abuser as a “leading Conservative from the time,” according to The Guardian, and said the allegations from one man, Steve Messham, and allegations heard in an older interview from 2000 with another individual pointed to “a leading politician” from the years of Margaret Thatcher’s prime ministership.
With various conjecture making its way onto the Internet concerning the alleged abuser’s identity, Lord McAlpine issued a statement vehemently denying any wrongdoing. Messham then released his own statement, which said in part that “after seeing a picture in the past hour of the individual concerned, this is not the person I identified by a photograph presented to me by the police in the early 1990s, who told me the man in the photograph was Lord McAlpine.”
The scandal comes with the pubcaster having become embattled in recent weeks over another child abuse scandal surrounding late BBC presenter Jimmy Savile, who has become the subject of wide-ranging allegations of pedophilia.
Entwistle’s shock resignation indicates the seriousness of the situation facing the BBC, and comes amid a growing consensus among UK newspapers and news organizations that the current crisis is one of the worst the BBC has faced in its 90-year history.
Before taking on the DG role in September, Entwistle had served as head of BBC Knowledge, the Corporation’s factual division, and earlier in his career had served as deputy editor of ‘Newsnight.’
Lord Patten, chairman of the BBC Trust – the broadcaster’s governing body – said in a statement that today was “undoubtedly one of the saddest evenings” of his public life.
“George Entwistle worked for the BBC for 23 years. He exemplifies the finest values of public service broadcasting,” he said. “At the heart of the BBC is its role as a trusted global news organization, and as the editor-in-chief of this organization, George has very honorably 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 honor and courage and would that the rest of the world always behaved the same… 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.”