BBC Director General George Entwistle speaks to the media
after appearing before a Culture and Media Committee
hearing at Parliament in London in October. Entwistle has
resigned, just two months into the job. REUTERS/Andrew
BBC director general George Entwistle has resigned just
two months into the job, after the state-funded broadcaster put
out a programme denounced by its chairman as shoddy journalism.
The BBC, reeling from revelations that a former star
presenter was a paedophile, brought further problems on its
head when a flagship news programme, Newsnight, aired a
mistaken allegation that a former senior politician sexually
The broadcaster issued a full apology on Friday, but early on
Saturday (local time) Entwistle had to admit under
questioning from his own journalists that he had not known in
advance about the Newsnight report, weeks after being accused
of being too hands-off over a previous scandal involving the
Later on Saturday Entwistle announced his resignation, saying
the unacceptable journalistic standards of the Newsnight film
had damaged the public's confidence in the 90-year-old BBC.
"As the director general of the BBC, I am ultimately
responsible for all content as the editor-in-chief, and I
have therefore decided that the honourable thing for me to do
is to step down," he said.
Entwistle succeeded Mark Thompson, set to take over at the
New York Times Co, in September and almost immediately faced
one of the biggest crises in the history of the BBC, funded
by an annual licence fee levied on all TV viewers.
This was the revelation by rival broadcaster ITV last month
that the late Jimmy Savile, one of the most recognisable
personalities on British television in the 1960s, 1970s and
80s, had sexually abused young girls, some on BBC premises.
Suggestions have surfaced of a paedophile ring inside the
broadcaster at the time and a BBC cover-up. A large-scale
police inquiry has been launched.
Entwistle was condemned for the BBC's slow response over the
Savile furore and then lambasted after it emerged that
Newsnight had axed an expose into Savile shortly after his
death and that the broadcaster had gone ahead with planned
His appearance before a parliamentary committee provoked
mockery, with one lawmaker saying he had shown a "lamentable
lack of knowledge" of what was going on at his own
Thompson has also had to explain what he knew about the
Savile episode and has faced questions from staff at the New
York Times over whether he is still the right person to take
one of the biggest jobs in American newspaper publishing.
For Entwistle, the knives were sharpening on Friday after the
BBC had to apologise following an admission Newsnight had
broadcast a mistaken allegation that an ex-politician, later
identified on the Internet as a close ally of former Prime
Minister Margaret Thatcher, had sexually abused children.
The final straw came when under questioning from his own
journalists, he said he had not known in advance about the
Newsnight report nor who the alleged abuser was until the
name appeared in social media.
"He showed no sign of being in control the first time (over
the Jimmy Savile issue) and this morning's interview on the
Today programme I think was fatal, because it happened
again," said Steve Hewlett, a media consultant and former BBC
"You could forgive him for the Savile situation, he could
have survived that if he'd shown he was on top of this
situation and he didn't," Hewlett told Reuters.
Senior lawmakers said Entwistle's decision was right because
it appeared that under him the BBC, long affectionately known
as "Auntie" and widely respected in many parts of the world,
was systematically incapable of addressing its failings.
"It is vital that credibility and public trust in this
important national institution is restored," Culture
Secretary Maria Miller said in a statement. "It is now
crucial that the BBC puts the systems in place to ensure it
can make first class news and current affairs programmes."
QUESTIONS NEED ANSWERING
John Whittingdale, chairman of parliament's powerful media
committee, said the crisis had done enormous damage to public
trust and confidence, and that Entwistle's departure did not
spell the end of the matter.
"There are still a lot of questions which need answering. Who
did take the decision to approve that (Newsnight) programme
because quite plainly it was a deeply flawed decision," he
The sudden departure of Entwistle, and the journalistic
mistakes that prompted it, is the latest drama to hit the
British media industry after two years of soul-searching
sparked by a phone-hacking scandal at Rupert Murdoch's
Any lack of integrity at the BBC is serious for a broadcaster
that has been widely respected for decades and is funded by
the public. A judge-led inquiry into media standards prompted
by the illegality at a Murdoch tabloid is due to be published
Lord Patten, chairman of the BBC's governing body and long a
prominent figure in British politics, said it was one of the
"saddest nights" of his public life to accept Entwistle's
"George has very honourably offered us his resignation
because of the unacceptable mistakes and the unacceptable
shoddy journalism which has caused so much controversy," said
"He has behaved as editor with huge honour and courage and
would that the rest of the world always behaved the same."
Patten announced that Tim Davie, the BBC's director of Audio
and Music, would be the acting director general.
Some commentators have said the hierarchical management of
the 22,000-strong organisation left it unable to respond to
large-scale problems and criticism.