Karen Kissane HERALD CORRESPONDENT
LONDON: The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, 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 after 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 party’s former treasurer, Lord McAlpine, had been involved in paedophilia in Wales in the 1980s.
Mr Cameron last night said Mr Entwistle’s payout of a year’s salary was “hard to justify”.
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 director of BBC Scotland, Ken MacQuarrie, concluded the editorial management of Newsnight had been weakened after 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 to 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.
The chairman of the BBC Trust, Lord Patten, faces renewed calls for his sacking and was forced to defend his decision to give Mr Entwistle a lump sum of £450,000 ($686,000) 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.
But a Conservative MP on the committee, Philip Davies, said the payout was an affront to taxpayers and demanded Lord Patten be replaced. Asked if 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.”
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 on Sky TV.
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.
First published in The Sydney Morning Herald.