I’m staying put says Patten as BBC boss quits over child abuse scandal
THE BBC’s director of news, Helen Boaden, and her deputy, Stephen Mitchell, have stepped aside as a result of a botched Newsnight report which contributed to the resignation of director-general George Entwistle.
Their moves came as a report into the Newsnight programme which mistakenly implicated Lord McAlpine in a sex abuse scandal was produced.
The BBC’s head of newsgathering, Fran Unsworth, and Ceri Thomas, the editor of the Radio 4 Today programme, are to fill in for Ms Boaden and Mr Mitchell temporarily.
The changes - which also include a change in the “chain of command” dealing with all BBC output - were announced in response to the report into Newsnight by Ken MacQuarrie, the director of BBC Scotland.
It comes in the wake of the resignation of Mr Entwistle on Saturday, which has left the embattled corporation in crisis, amid calls for BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten to follow suit.
The response to the report has been one of the first issues to be tackled by acting director-general Tim Davie as he prepares to rebuild trust in the corporation.
Yesterday Lord Patten said that he had made no attempt to persuade Mr Entwistle to stay on.
“He went extremely honourably. I didn’t try to argue him out of it because I think he had made his mind up and I think it was the right decision,” he said.
“We had several conversations yesterday. He is an editor in chief of a great news organisation and I think he felt he should take responsibility for the awful journalism which disfigured that Newsnight programme.”
Home Secretary Theresa May also said that she believed Mr Entwistle had taken the “right decision” in going.
“I think it is an issue of trust and credibility and building trust and credibility,” she told The Andrew Marr Show.
“It’s a renowned national institution but it also has a worldwide ground as well. I think the issue which is at the core of the Newsnight piece on North Wales was a question about quality of journalism and of course goes to the heart of what the BBC is about.”
Lord Patten defended presenter John Humphrys whose ferocious interview with Mr Entwistle on Saturday morning’s Radio 4 Today programme was widely seen to have undermined his position.
“You don’t go on an interview with John Humphrys and expect the bowling to be slow full tosses,” he said.
“Throughout this the BBC, in the way we have covered ourselves, has held onto the fact that above all we are a news organisation and our credibility depends on telling on the truth about ourselves and about others, however horrible it may be.”
He said that he still believed that Mr Entwistle - who lasted just 54 days in the job - had been the right choice for the post.
“One of the tragedies is that he wanted to do all the right things in terms of the management of the BBC. What undermined him were exactly those failings that he wanted to address,” he said.
“He is a very, very good man, cerebral, decent, honourable, brave and I am afraid that this would have overwhelmed a lot of people with those sort of skills.”
Lord Patten disclosed that unlike Mr Entwistle - who said that he had not known in advance about the Newsnight programme - that he had been aware of what was going on.
He said that he had been informed of a tweet from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which worked on the report, suggesting it was about to expose a senior political figure as a child abuser.
“I did subsequently ask whether the programme was being properly edited, whether it was being properly managed, and I was assured that it was,” he said.
He said that the BBC now needed “a thorough, radical structural overhaul”.
Lord Patten should not be given the opportunity to pick another director-general following the resignation of Mr Entwistle, former cabinet minister David Mellor said.
Mr Mellor, a colleague of the BBC Trust chairman under John Major, said Mr Entwistle had been appointed to the corporation’s top job despite having “the leadership qualities of Winnie the Pooh”.
He told the BBC’s Andrew Neil: “I am very fond of Chris and I think he is one of the finest people in my generation of politics and I think it is a shame that circumstances conspired to prevent him going further in the Tory party.
“But the Chris of today doesn’t seemed to have played a very good hand in all of this. I thought being belligerent on the Andrew Marr show, saying ‘well, if I’d had my time again I would have done the same’, suggests that we can’t have very much confidence in his ability to pick a winner next time.
“For a man of his intellectual rigour, he doesn’t seem very clear what his role is. Is his role to be an apologist-come-occasional critic of the BBC, or is his role to regulate the BBC?
“My worry about Chris is that we all get to a certain age and stage: he pads the corridors of Oxford, all the high tables, he has other jobs. I just think it needs someone more energetic and more focused to do that job.
“I am not going to say to an old friend he should resign. But if I was him, I would consider whether I am so tainted by this nonsense. You know George, bless his heart, had the leadership qualities of Winnie the Pooh when it came to the world outside.
“That would have been self-evident if we had been sitting here and had George been in, we wouldn’t have appointed him.
“The point is that he is not a credible person, Entwistle. If Chris Patten says he would do the same again, I don’t think he should be given the opportunity to do that.”
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