The BBC is widely regarded as the finest broadcasting organisation in the world, but events of the last few weeks have thrown that belief into doubt.
Mark Thompson, Director General of the BBC, announced in March 2012 that he was leaving his post, he had been appointed CEO of the New York Times. He was succeeded by the BBC’s Head of Vision (Head of Television) George Entwistle. George took up his new post on 17th September 2012 and presided over some of the most bizarre events in the BBC’s long history.
Firstly, and only a few days after becoming DG, the news broke that Jimmy Savile, a former golden boy of the BBC, had been a serial paedophile and had abused underage girls on BBC premises. It further emerged that in the run up to Christmas 2011 the BBC has scheduled a number of tribute programmes to Jimmy Savile to run over the Christmas period. At the same time, the BBC 2 flagship ‘Newsnight’ programme had been investigating claims that Savile had been an abuser; their investigation was in an advanced stage of preparation when it was suddenly dropped. It is also now reported that George Entwistle, then in charge of Television and the BBC’s Christmas TV schedule, was at a function, not on BBC premises, in late 2011. Helen Boaden, Head of BBC News was at the same function and had an all too brief conversation with George. Apparently she told him that Newsnight was investigating Jimmy Savile and that their investigation could affect the Christmas TV schedules. George Entwistle thanked Helen for telling him and asked to be updated if the investigation made it onto the Newsnight programme. Amazingly he did NOT ask what the investigation was about, nor did he attempt to discover what effect their investigation would have on the Christmas schedule.
The Newsnight investigation was dropped by the editor of Newsnight, Peter Rippon. It was suggested that the investigation was dropped so that it did not interfere with the planned tributes to Jimmy Savile. Peter Rippon wrote a blog stating very clearly that he alone had decided to drop the investigation as it was not sufficiently strong enough to be shown. He stated that no pressure had been put on him from above to drop the investigation. I believe him and I am sure that is the case. Unfortunately though, his explanation for dropping the investigation contained a number of errors and made the BBC look somewhat foolish. An apology followed, as did Peter Rippon’s suspension from his job as Newsnight editor.
Shortly afterwards George Entwistle offered to appear before the Parliamentary Culture Media and Sport Select Committee, where he received some very tough questioning, some of which he had no answers for, which put into doubt his suitability for the role of Director General of the BBC. Then on 2nd November, Newsnight ran a story about child abuse in North Wales, their source was a victim of the abuse who named the wrong person. Afterwards, when he was shown a photograph of the person he was accusing, he said that he was wrong and that the person in the photograph, a former Conservative MP, was not his abuser. He then apologised for that, and Newsnight had to do the same. George Entwistle was then very robustly interviewed by John Humphrys on Radio 4. Entwistle admitted that he had no knowledge of the story, had not seen Newsnight as he been out that evening and only heard of the flawed report the day after transmission.
At the Culture Media and Sport Select Committee George Entwistle made the point that although the Director General of the BBC is also the Editor in Chief of BBC output, that the BBC broadcasts so much live news and current affairs programming on a daily basis that he could not oversee every second of it. He’s completely right about that of course and that is why the BBC have senior journalists in charge of the many and various parts of the BBC’s output.
George Entwistle’s resignation is very sad. A good, decent man, badly let down. Very few people could have coped with recent rush of awful events – Michael Crick, former Newsnight Journalist.
George Entwistle subsequently resigned as Director General, and is seen above announcing his resignation standing next to a grim-faced Lord Patten, the Chairman of the BBC Trust. Lord Patten said that he had accepted George Entwistle’s resignation as he thought it was the right thing for him to do. I agree and here’s why. We, the licence fee payers, have lost faith in George Entwistle’s ability to run such a complex organisation. Had he stayed it would be difficult for the BBC to regain the trust of the British people.
- Why when Helen Boaden told Entwistle that Newsnight was investigating Jimmy Savile did he not ask what the investigation was about?
- Why did he not follow it up with her or ask Peter Rippon what the investigation was about?
- Why did he offer to appear before the Commons Culture Media and Sport Select Committee, and then arrive so badly briefed?
- Why did he not, and especially after Peter Rippon was suspended, keep a closer eye on what was happening at Newsnight?
- Why did he not ask his senior managers to tell him about any ongoing investigations to do with Jimmy Savile, or people associated with Jimmy Savile, or child abuse in general, or any allegations against the BBC?
- Why was he not aware until after transmission that Newsnight were running another story on child abuse?
These questions are the reason we have lost faith in George Entwistle as Director General. It’s sad to see him go after just 54 days, he was an excellent journalist and editor, but he seems not to have had his eye on the ball during this crisis.
The BBC have appointed Tim Davie as acting DG while they look for a replacement Tim Davie may well be it, although I am available for interview if required, but I’d also like to see the return of Greg Dyke to the job. He was one of the best DG’s ever, and after the moral sapping eight years of Mark Thompson’s reign, the BBC needs a serious morale boost. I hope for those still working for the BBC, that they get it soon.