Cameron joins growing fury at BBC payout

Cameron joins growing fury at BBC payout

LONDON: The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, has joined the chorus of criticism over the payout to the former BBC director-general George Entwistle, as two more senior editors stepped aside over the broadcaster's decisions on programs investigating child sex abuse.

Mr Entwistle's deal, in which he received double the money stipulated in his contract, is now likely to be reviewed by Britain's National Audit Office following a torrent of complaints from MPs of all parties.

Mr Entwistle quit at the weekend, only 54 days into the job, after a furore over the BBC program Newsnight wrongly suggesting that a Conservative peer, later identified as the former treasurer Lord McAlpine, had been involved in paedophilia in Wales in the 1980s.

Mr Cameron last night described Mr Entwistle's payout of a year's salary as "hard to justify".

Multiple controversies ... former BBC director-general George Entwistle (left), Lord McAlpine and TV presenter Jimmy Savile.

Multiple controversies ... former BBC director-general George Entwistle (left), Lord McAlpine and TV presenter Jimmy Savile.


The head of news at the BBC, Helen Boaden, and her deputy, Steve Mitchell, both "stepped aside" while the broadcaster investigated why management dropped a Newsnight program investigating child sex abuse allegations against the late BBC presenter Jimmy Savile. Multiple allegations against Savile have surfaced since then.

A BBC report into the McAlpine affair, released on Monday night, linked the two controversies. The head of BBC Scotland, Ken MacQuarrie, concluded that the editorial management of Newsnight had been weakened following the Savile scandal. The editor of Newsnight had been suspended over the decision not to run the Savile documentary, a deputy editor had left the organisation and other deputies were stood aside from making decisions over Savile-related matters.

It was decided late in the process that the program suggesting a Tory peer was a paedophile was "Savile-related", and judgment about it was referred up a different line of management.

Mr MacQuarrie's report found that basic journalistic checks and balances, such as correct photo identification of the alleged attacker and the offer of a right of reply to the person accused, were lacking.

Under pressure .... Lord Patten faces calls to follow Mr Entwistle out of the door.

Under pressure .... Lord Patten faces calls to follow Mr Entwistle out of the door.

Photo: Getty Images

The continuing dramas increased the pressure on the chairman of the BBC Trust, Lord Patten, who faced calls for his sacking and was forced to defend his decision to give Mr Entwistle a lump sum of £450,000 ($685,000) on top of his pension. Lord Patten said in a letter to the parliamentary select committee on media that if Mr Entwistle had not made an "honourable offer" to resign, he would have had to be sacked and would have been entitled to a full year's notice.

"In circumstances where we needed to conclude matters quickly and required George's ongoing co-operation in a number of very difficult and sensitive matters, including the inquiries into issues associated with Savile, I concluded that a consensual resignation on these terms was clearly the better route," he wrote.

But a Conservative MP on the committee, Philip Davies, said the payout was an affront to taxpayers and demanded Lord Patten be replaced.

Asked whether he thought getting rid of Lord Patten would increase the instability at the BBC, Mr Davies said: "Lord Patten is part of the problem. He is saying get a grip now because the whole issue is overwhelming him . . . He has been asleep at the wheel."

Lord Patten is part of the problem ... he has been asleep at the wheel.

But the former Labour culture secretary Ben Bradshaw said Mr Entwistle had earned less than his predecessor and "didn't create the crisis". He warned that many Tory MPs disliked Lord Patten because he held pro-Europe views.

The Culture Secretary, Maria Miller, told the House of Commons: "The National Audit Office is empowered to conduct a value-for-money review of any issue. If they decide to review this decision, I expect that the BBC would co-operate fully.

"The circumstances of [Mr Entwistle's] departure make it hard to justify the level of severance money that has been agreed.

"Contractual arrangements are a matter for the BBC Trust, but the trust also has clear responsibilities to ensure value for money for the licence-fee payer."

Adding to the broadcaster's public embarrassment, its new acting director-general, Tim Davie, appeared to lose his temper and walk out of an interview with Sky News.


Mr Davie, who was appointed at the weekend, repeatedly declined to say whether Mr Entwistle was responsible for the BBC's flaws and batted away questions about whether more heads would roll before saying he had "a lot to do" and walking off the set.

Mr Davie said his first move as director-general had been to put in "a clear line of command" at the BBC. "Separately, we are going to look at the individual process, and there may be disciplinary action. But I want to be fair to people. I don't subscribe to the view that you should act very quickly in that regard and be unreasonable."

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