BBC execs stand aside over Savile crisis

2012-11-12 14:00
The BBC's offices at New Broadcasting House in central London. (Will Oliver, AFP)

The BBC's offices at New Broadcasting House in central London. (Will Oliver, AFP)

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London - The BBC announced that two of its executives were standing aside on Monday and warned more heads may roll as it battles with a major crisis over its reporting of sex abuse that toppled the director-general.

The broadcaster also came under fresh pressure after it emerged that George Entwistle, who dramatically quit as director-general on Saturday, would receive a payoff of £450 000 after just 54 days in the job.

Prime Minister David Cameron reportedly said the payment was "hard to justify", increasing the pressure on Chris Patten, the chairperson of the BBC's governing board the BBC Trust, who is himself fending off calls to quit.

Entwistle's departure has left the BBC in chaos as it fights the fallout from allegations that its late star Jimmy Savile was a serial sex offender, and from a television report that wrongly implicated a politician in child abuse.

Acting director-general Tim Davie is expected to set out his plans to deal with the crisis later on Monday, amid speculation that a number of senior figures at the BBC are set to lose their jobs.

At the heart of the scandal is the role of staff and managers overseeing the BBC's flagship current affairs programme Newsnight.

May have abused up to 300

Newsnight broadcast a report on 2 November implicating a senior Conservative party figure in abuse at a children's home in Wales in the 1970s, which it was then forced to retract.

The programme was already facing accusations that it axed a report into allegations of sex abuse against Savile last year because it would be embarrassing to the corporation as it prepared to run a tribute to the late presenter.

Police have since said that Savile, who died in October 2011 aged 84, may have abused up to 300 children over four decades.

Newsnight editor Peter Rippon stood aside last month over the axed Savile report and on Monday the BBC announced that Director of News Helen Boaden and her deputy Stephen Mitchell would also be temporarily standing down over the row.

The BBC insisted that they had not been sacked and were expected to return to their jobs after the inquiry by former Sky News boss Nick Pollard was published.

It also stressed that Boaden and Mitchell had not been involved in this month's botched Newsnight programme, which wrongly implicated former Conservative party treasurer Alistair McAlpine in sex abuse at the Welsh children's home.

Defamation suit likely

However, the corporation warned heads were likely to roll over the crisis.

"Consideration is now being given to the extent to which individuals should be asked to account further for their actions and if appropriate, disciplinary action will be taken," the BBC said in a statement.

Commentators have blamed the latest Newsnight fiasco, which is likely to see the BBC sued by McAlpine for defamation, on the fact that Boaden and other senior staff had stepped back from managing the show while their role in axing the Savile investigation last year was reviewed.

The BBC said on Monday there was a "lack of clarity around the editorial chain of command" and it had decided to "re-establish a single management to deal with all output, Savile related or otherwise".

While Boaden and Mitchell await news of the Savile Newsnight review, this management will involve Fran Unsworth as acting director of news, Ceri Thomas as acting deputy director and Karen O'Connor as acting Newsnight editor, it said.

Radical overhaul

Meanwhile Patten, the former governor of Hong Kong who took over as chairperson of the BBC Trust in April, was fighting calls for his resignation.

He has called for a "radical overhaul" of the way the BBC is run following the crisis, but came under fresh pressure on Monday after it emerged that Entwistle - whom he appointed as director-general - has received a huge payout.

After less than two months in the job, Entwistle is thought to be leaving with a £450 000 lump sum plus a £877 000 pension plan.

John Whittingdale, the chairperson of parliament's media committee, said that Entwistle was entitled to some payoff but "on the face of it, it does seem to be pretty extraordinary".

Read more on:    bbc  |  david cameron  |  jimmy savile  |  bbc abuse scandal  |  child abuse

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