The chairman of the BBC Trust, Lord Patten, is under increasing pressure as it emerged he approved a £1.32 million ($2 million) pay-off for George Entwistle, the former director-general.
Mr Entwistle, who resigned on Saturday night after just 54 days in the job, leaves with a £450,000 lump sum on top of his £877,000 pension pot, which was described as "unjustifiable and unacceptable" by one senior MP.
George, bless his heart, had the leadership qualities of Winnie the Pooh.
The BBC Trust said Mr Entwistle had been given a year's salary, which amounts to £8333 for every day he spent as director-general, to "reflect the fact that he will continue to help the BBC business" by giving evidence to a series of inquiries into the Jimmy Savile affair and "to effect a speedy resolution and allow the BBC to move on".
Under pressure .... Chris Patten faces calls for his resignation from both sides of British politics. Photo: Getty Images
The chairman of Parliament's culture, media and sport select committee, John Whittingdale, said licence fee payers would be "surprised" that Mr Entwistle was being given so much money after such a short tenure, while Philip Davies MP, who also sits on the committee, said it was "yet another reason" Lord Patten should resign.
Mr Entwistle quit after the flagship Newsnight program was forced to issue an "unreserved" apology to the former minister Lord McAlpine after it broadcast a report wrongly accusing a senior Conservative of paedophilia, which led to Lord McAlpine being named online.
Lord Patten admitted yesterday that the very existence of Newsnight, which was already in crisis after it cancelled a film last year which would have exposed Jimmy Savile as a paedophile, was open to question.
George Entwistle ... quit as BBC Director General. Photo: Reuters
Two former culture secretaries – Kim Howells and David Mellor – have called on Lord Patten to go. There was anger on the Conservative Party backbenches at the way he repeatedly criticised Rupert Murdoch and News International on Sunday.
The opposition Labour Party’s former director of communications Alastair Campbell also indicated Mr Patten’s role as both cheerleader and regulator of the BBC was unsustainable.
Mr Mellor, speaking on the BBC’s Sunday Politics, was the first to suggest Mr Patten should quit. ‘‘I’m not going to say to an old friend ’resign’, but if I was him I’d consider whether I am so tainted by this nonsense ... George, bless his heart, had the leadership qualities of Winnie the Pooh when it came to the world outside ... if Chris Patten says I’d do the same again, I don’t think he should be given the opportunity to do that.’’
He implied Lord Patten had wanted a weak figure such as Mr Entwistle, and said Lord Patten should be replaced by ‘‘someone who is more energetic and more focused’’.
Labour’s Harriet Harman said Lord Patten would have questions to answer about his appointment of Mr Entwistle, but said politicians should not seek to micro-manage the BBC. She said it was ‘‘a very difficult and dangerous time for the BBC because there are many who have got criticisms of the BBC and don’t want it to succeed and flourish’’.
Mr Campbell wrote on his blog: ‘‘Entwistle is a very nice man, and had his career as DG started off in different circumstances he might have grown to become a good DG at a time that is what the BBC needs. But it is hard to escape the conclusion that the same weaknesses some commentators and insiders saw in him when he was appointed lay behind the appointment in the first place: it would not be the first time the board of an important organisation appointed as chief exec someone they felt was unlikely to threaten or overshadow them.
‘‘In any event, Lord Patten’s role surely has to come under proper examination now, not just in relation to the appointment process, but also in relation to the uncomfortable position that makes him both cheerleader and regulator. It is unsustainable.’’
Up to six senior executives are expected to follow Mr Entwistle out of the door once the findings of a series of internal reviews are published, throwing the leadership of the BBC further into chaos. One MP suggested that only a "clear out" of the Trust and senior management would restore the public's trust in the corporation, while the cabinet minister Philip Hammond suggested there would be "questions" over the future of the licence fee if the BBC failed to regain the public's trust.
As the hunt for a new director-general began, the veteran broadcaster David Dimbleby said the Trust must appoint an outsider who is not "pickled in the culture" of bureaucracy that has "throttled" the BBC in recent years.
Lord Patten insisted yesterday he would not resign, but admitted his job would be on the line if he could not public trust in the BBC.
He said: "I think there are big issues which need to be tackled involving the BBC and . . . that's what I want to give my attention to."
But Mr Davies suggested Mr Patten's position had become "untenable". He said: "He has been asleep at the wheel while he has been doing the job, he spent hundreds of thousands of pounds of licence fee money appointing George Entwistle and 54 days later he is gone.
"The fact that he has approved a David Dimbleby, £450,000 payoff for him means his position has become farcical.
"This payoff is totally unjustifiable, it's unacceptable, it's extraordinary and I suspect it's been done to save Lord Patten's bacon."
Gerry Sutcliffe MP, another member of the culture, media and sport committee, said the payoff was "symptomatic of the problems around the BBC", adding: "He has not had time to make an impact and to get that amount of money is ridiculous."
He suggested Mr Entwistle should "think twice" before accepting the money because it would "tarnish the spirit of his resignation".
Downing Street said Mr Patten retained the support of the Prime Minister, but that position is likely to change if he is criticised by any of the three BBC internal inquiries due to report back in December on Savile and sexual harassment.
Lord Patten said the future of Newsnight was "one of the things we will be discussing" with the acting director-general, Tim Davie.
The Daily Telegraph has learnt that the Newsnight programme of November 2, in which a former care home resident wrongly claimed to have been abused by a senior Tory, was approved for transmission by one of the more junior members of the BBC's 12-man management board.
The BBC has refused to say who had given the go-ahead for the film. Mr Whittingdale said the executive who approved the show would have to quit. "If George Entwistle was unaware of the program, which he says he was, then clearly somebody below him took the decision that it was right to broadcast it," he said. "So potentially it may require other people to resign."
Government sources said up to five other BBC executives might also have to resign when the findings of the BBC's internal inquiries are made public.
The early front-runners for director-general include the BBC's former chief operating officer Caroline Thomson and the chief executive of the broadcasting watchdog, Ofcom, Ed Richards.
Telegraph, London; Guardian News & Media