BBCollateral Damage
Had to be, really.

After practically admitting – in an interview on his own network – that he didn’t keep up to date with current affairs (for whatever reason), George Entwistle, the Director-General of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) has stepped down.

The BBC’s top executive fell on his sword, in the early hours of this morning.

Entwistle had held the position for only 54 days.

Three elements contributed to the early demise of Mr. Entwistle’s career.

1. The Jimmy Savile Affair

I covered this, in my post “Savile Row”, but to summarize:

BBC television and radio presenter Jimmy Savile (who died last year) was revealed postmortem as a super-serial paedophile who exploited his position as host of a popular children’s TV program and head of several charities to gain access to his victims, over a period covering the 1960s, ’70s, ’80s, and quite possibly the ’90s, as well.

Up to 300 separate allegations (Yes; you read that correctly) are currently being investigated.

Together with suspicions that the BBC may have been at best negligent, and at worst complicit, in failing to discover or report on Savile’s activities, throughout that time.

Last year, in fact, George Entwistle (then head of the BBC’s television arm) presided over the cancellation of a documentary program (Newsnight) exposing aspects of the Savile affair.

That was Strike One.

Strike Two?

2. The Second Newsnight Debacle

Newsnight is pretty much the BBC’s flagship of investigative journalism.

Incisive. Hard-hitting. Willing to take on difficult subjects.

And all that.

So, the show’s producers and journalists must have been smarting from the heat of the intense public anger over the withdrawal of last year’s Savile exposé.

And, presumably, looking for an avenue to regain their edge – and the public trust.

On Nov. 2nd, Newsnight aired the results of its investigation into alleged cases of child abuse at various care facilities in north Wales.

The show reported the testimony of abuse victim Steve Messham’s claims against a leading Conservative Party politician of the 1980s – but Messham withdrew his accusation a week later, saying he had been mistaken about the identity of the man in the photograph which he was shown.
Lord McAlpine, although not named on Newsnight, was identified on the Internet as the subject of the allegations.
Mr Messham apologised to Lord McAlpine saying he was not the man who assaulted him, while Lord McAlpine said the claims were “wholly false and seriously defamatory”.
The BBC has since ordered an “immediate pause” in Newsnight investigations to assess editorial robustness and a suspension of all co-productions with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which worked on the Newsnight broadcast.
Mr Entwistle commissioned a report from BBC Scotland director Ken MacQuarrie into what happened with the Newsnight investigation.
A last, desperate swing.
Not enough, though.

And Strike Three:

3. The Crisis of Trust

By now, Entwistle was looking more like a liability, than a viable Chief Executive.

Mr Entwistle was criticized for his performance during an interview on the BBC’s Radio 4 Today program on Saturday, in which he admitted he had not read a newspaper article revealing the case of mistaken identity involving Lord McAlpine, and that he had not seen the Newsnight broadcast when it aired on 2 November as he “was out”.

Worse: His perceived lack of activity, oversight, or organizational skills was having a knock-on effect, on public confidence in the BBC, as a whole.

A poll conducted in the UK on Friday confirmed that – for the first time in, like, ever – fewer than 50% of the general public actually trusted the BBC to provide truthful and reliable reporting.

Not good.

For a network that virtually embodies the highest standards of journalism?

Not good, at all.

Damage Done.

So, George Entwistle had to go.

BBC Chairman Lord Patten now faces the twin tasks of finding a replacement for Entwistle, and restoring the people’s faith in the Beeb (as the BBC is known, colloquially).

Not easy.

But – as one of those who still hold the Corporation in a high regard – I hope he does it. And soon.

In the meantime, I’ll let you get back to your day.