Editor’s Note: This story was originally published Nov. 11. The story was lost in a server change but was re-uploaded Nov. 13.
BBC director-general George Entwistle resigned Nov. 10, “after just 54 days in the job” the day after the British public broadcaster apologized for a child sex abuse report aired on its Newsnight program. In a resignation statement, published in full by the Guardian, Entwistle said:
“In the light of the fact that the director-general is also the editor-in-chief and ultimately responsible for all content; and in the light of the unacceptable journalistic standards of the Newsnight film broadcast on Friday 2nd November, I have decided that the honourable thing to do is to step down from the post of director-general.”
He added that being the director-general was a “great honour” and that “the BBC is full of people of the greatest talent and the highest integrity.”
In Entwistle’s 54 days, the BBC’s reporting — or lack of reporting — on child sexual abuse has been major news, the Guardian noted.
First, there was reporting on Jimmy Savile, who has been accused of child sex abuse. Savile hosted BBC shows including “Top of the Pops” and “Jim’ll Fix It.” He died in October 2011.
The BBC “has been accused of covering up the accusations by canceling a Newsnight report on the Savile case last year,” the New York Times explained. The “police investigated” Savile five years ago, “but he was never charged,” according to a separate report by the Times.
Entwistle apologized and said the BBC would be “at the disposal of the police” during its investigation into Savile following ITV’s documentary of the claims about Savile, according to an early October report by the UK Telegraph.
The BBC reported that there are “several inquiries” by the BBC as a result of the Savile story, including “why Newsnight dropped an investigation into” the claims about Savile, “whether culture and practice at the BBC enabled Savile to carry out the sexual abuse of children,” and on the “handling of past sexual harassment claims.”
“More than 200 potential victims have been identified” by UK police, whose Cdr. Peter Spindler called Savile a “predatory sex offender,” according to the BBC which noted it “dropped” its “investigation into claims” about Savile in December 2011.
The BBC also apologized on Nov. 9 for Newsnight‘s Nov. 2 report, which focused on “alleged sex abuse in Wales” and a man named Steve Messham who “claimed he had been abused by a senior Conservative figure,” the Associated Press reported. In a Nov. 9 report, the BBC said it “issued an unreserved apology for a Newsnight report which led to Lord McAlpine being wrongly implicated in the alleged sexual abuse of children at north Wales care homes.” BBC noted that Newsnight “did not name” McAlpine.
According to the AP, “online rumors focused on Alistair McAlpine, a Conservative Party member of the House of Lords” as the accused. McAlpine rejected the claims, saying that “I did not sexually abuse Mr. Messham or any other residents of the children’s home in Wrexham,” CNN reported. He also commented
“I wish to make it clear that I do not suggest that Mr. Messham is malicious in making the allegations of sexual abuse about me. He is referring to a terrible period of his life in the 1970s or 1980s and what happened to him will have affected him ever since.”
Messham apologized, saying he made an error and that McAlpine is “not the person I identified by photograph presented to me by the police in the early 1990s, who told me the man in the photograph was Lord McAlpine.”
According to the BBC, “an apology was broadcast on Friday’s programme” as well, and there would be an “immediate pause in all Newsnight investigations to assess editorial robustness and supervision.”
Prior to Entwistle announcing his resignation, he called the Nov. 2 program “so fundamentally wrong” and “completely unacceptable,” NBC News noted. He also had commented that he didn’t know about the report.
As Sky News added, Entwistle said “I found out about the film the following day.” Entwistle explained he didn’t know about the program because “not every piece of journalism made inside the BBC is referred to the editor-in-chief,” the BBC reported.
The Guardian, which created a timeline of “events leading to George Entwistle’s resignation,” noted that the BBC’s Tim Davie will be the “acting DG.”
iMediaEthics is writing to the BBC for further comment about Entwistle’s resignation, how long Newsnight will be “paused,” what would affect that “pausing,” and for more information about its verification of its Nov. 2 reporting on Messham. We’ll update with any response.