The outgoing boss of BBC Radio, Tim Davie, has been given the job of holding together the entire British Broadcasting Corporation as the crisis caused by the fallout of Savile-gate was ramped up yet again this weekend, with the resignation of Director General George Entwistle, who’d only been doing the job for 53 days. Davie will lead the Corporation on an interim basis until a new DG is found, while the Chair of the Beeb’s overseer the BBC Trust, Chris Patten, steps into the spotlight as the Corporation’s principle public spokesperson.
Only at the BBC could management failings 30 plus years ago, and two poor editorial decisions on a late night news show, lead to such an all-out meltdown. But, while few have ever had to deal with such a baptism of fire in a new job, Entwistle simply lacked the charisma to defend the BBC, to both politicians and rival news organisations, when the shit hit the fan, and the scale of Jimmy Savile’s alleged child abuse became clear, some of his assaults having been conducted on BBC premises against BBC audience members.
Entwistle couldn’t be held responsible for a chauvinistic corporate culture at the Corporation three decades ago, nor the poor duty of care that BBC management of old seemingly offered to the children involved in its shows. And he couldn’t be held directly responsible for a ‘Newsnight’ editor choosing to kill a report on the allegations against a then recently dead Savile in late 2011, allowing rival ITV News to break the story nearly a year later.
But few were impressed with the way Entwistle handled the uproar that erupted after ITV first aired its allegations against Savile, and which only grew as more and more allegations were made about the former BBC star and some of those around him. And questions were asked as to why, as boss of BBC TV in late 2011, he let a number of tribute shows to the late Savile go ahead, despite being aware that ‘Newsnight’ was investigating damaging allegations against the former DJ.
Though it was another ‘Newsnight’ report that forced the bumbling DG to finally quit. With a plethora of adults coming forward, in the wake of Savile-gate, claiming to have been abused by prominent figures as children, the BBC news programme ran a report linking a senior player in the 1980s Conservative Party to a well documented child abuse scandal in North Wales, in which children in care homes were abused throughout the 1970s and 80s.
Although BBC lawyers wouldn’t let ‘Newsnight’ name the Tory who was being accused, online commentators were less careful, stating that the child abuser was Alistair McAlpine. But the allegations were entirely false; all evidence made McAlpine’s involvement in the child abuse scandal impossible, and the main accuser, one of the people abused at the Bryn Estyn children’s home in Wrexham, confirmed he’d made a mistake as soon as he saw a photo of the Tory Lord.
As DG, Entwistle is also Editor In Chief of the BBC’s news operations, and in that role was forced to issue a grovelling apology for the latest ‘Newsnight’ cock up after McAlpine issued a public statement hitting out at his accusers, including the Beeb. One crisis too many, and this one occurring on his watch, Entwistle had to go, leaving Patten, who oversaw the appointment of the new DG, to feel the heat, promising “a radical overhaul” of the Corporation following a rush to appoint a new executive chief.
Of course anyone who has had any dealings with the BBC will know that the Corporation’s top heavy hierarchy and overly bureaucratic culture, and a tendency to treat certain expensive divisions as “untouchable” while cutting the budgets of others, is far from ideal. Though, of course, the BBC also remains one of the best and most innovative broadcasters in the world, and with a highly regarded news division, despite recent setbacks. Some will therefore worry about any radical overhaul of the Corporation being initiated in the midst of a crisis, though sometimes such crises make much needed change easier to achieve.
Probably top of any revamp agenda will be the much discussed (well, it was much discussed yesterday) proposal that the Editor In Chief of the BBC’s news output should be someone other than the DG, in much the same was as newspaper organisations have Editors to take responsibility for editorial decisions, and CEOs or MDs to take the heat over commercial dealings.
This morning the Beeb’s top two news execs also stepped down – and had one of those been Editor In Chief it’s possible Entwistle could have stayed on (though, given his handling of the wider crisis, very possibly not). Any split of the DG and Editor In Chief role would require a rewrite of the BBC’s Royal Charter, though in the current climate, that would probably be quite easy to speed through.
Meanwhile, BBC Audio & Music man Tim Davie had been due to move over to the top job at the Corporation’s commercial division BBC Worldwide. How soon before that can now happen remains to be seen. And whether Audio & Music will still be a standalone division with its own chief moving forward will depend on just how radical Patten and his new DG really want to be in overhauling poor Auntie.
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