Chris Patten, chairman of the BBC Trust, speaks on the
Andrew Marr political talk show at BBC television studios
in London. REUTERS/Jeff Overs/BBC
Britain's BBC could be doomed unless it makes radical
changes, the head of its governing trust says, after its
director general quit to take the blame for the airing of false
child sex abuse allegations against a former politician.
Chris Patten, chairman of the BBC Trust, said confidence had
to be restored if the publicly funded corporation was to
withstand pressure from rivals, especially Rupert Murdoch's
media empire, which would try to take advantage of the
"If you're saying, 'Does the BBC need a thorough structural
radical overhaul?', then absolutely it does, and that is what
we will have to do," Patten, a one-time senior figure in
Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative Party and the
last British governor of Hong Kong, told BBC television.
"The basis for the BBC's position in this country is the
trust that people have in it," Patten said. "If the BBC loses
that, it's over."
George Entwistle resigned as director general on Saturday,
just two months into the job, to take responsibility for the
child sex allegation on the flagship news programme
The witness in the report, who says he suffered sexual abuse
at a care home in the late 1970s, said on Friday he had
misidentified the politician, Alistair McAlpine. Newsnight
admitted it had not shown the witness a picture of McAlpine,
or approached McAlpine for comment before going to air.
Already under pressure after revelations that a long-time
star presenter, the late Jimmy Savile, was a paedophile,
Entwistle conceded on the BBC morning news that he had not
known - or asked - who the alleged abuser was until the name
appeared in social media.
The BBC, celebrating its 90th anniversary, is affectionately
known in Britain as "Auntie", and respected around much of
But with 22,000 staff working at eight national TV channels,
50 radio stations and an extensive Internet operation,
critics say it is hampered by a complex and overly
bureaucratic and hierarchical management structure.
Journalists said this had become worse under Entwistle's
predecessor Mark Thompson, who took over in the wake of the
last major crisis to hit the corporation and is set to become
chief executive of the New York Times Co on Monday.
In that instance, both director general and chairman were
forced out after the BBC was castigated by a public inquiry
over a report alleging government impropriety in the fevered
build up to war in Iraq, leading to major organisational
One of the BBC's most prominent figures, Newsnight presenter
Jeremy Paxman, said since the Iraq report furore, management
had become bloated while cash had been cut from programme
"He (Entwistle) has been brought low by cowards and
incompetents," Paxman said in a statement, echoing a
widely-held view that Entwistle was a good man who had been
let down by his senior staff.
Prime Minister Cameron appeared ready to give the BBC the
benefit of the doubt, believing that "one of the great
institutions of this country" could reform and deal with its
failings, according to sources in his office.
Patten, who must find a new director general to sort out the
mess, agreed that management structures had proved
"Apparently decisions about the programme went up through
every damned layer of BBC management, bureaucracy, legal
checks - and still emerged," he said.
"One of the jokes I made, and actually it wasn't all that
funny, when I came to the BBC ... was that there were more
senior leaders in the BBC than there were in the Chinese
Patten ruled out resigning himself but other senior jobs are
expected to be on the line, while BBC supporters fear
investigative journalism will be scaled back. He said he
expected to name Entwistle's successor in weeks, not months.
Among the immediate challenges are threats of litigation.
McAlpine, a close ally of former prime minister Margaret
Thatcher, has indicated he will sue for damages.
Claims for compensation are also likely from victims who say
Savile, one of the most recognisable personalities on British
television in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, sexually abused them as
children, sometimes on BBC premises.
Two inquiries are already under way, looking at failures at
Newsnight and allegations relating to Savile, both of which
could make uncomfortable reading for senior figures.
Police have also launched a major inquiry into Savile's
crimes and victims' allegations of a high-profile paedophile
ring. Detectives said they had arrested their third suspect
on Sunday, a man in his 70s from Cambridgeshire in central
Funded by an annual licence fee levied on all TV viewers, the
BBC has long been resented by its commercial rivals, who
argue it has an unfair advantage and distorts the market.
Murdoch's Sun tabloid gleefully reported Entwistle's
departure with the headline "Bye Bye Chump" and Patten said
News Corp and others would put the boot in, happy to deflect
attention after a phone-hacking scandal put the newspaper
industry under intense and painful scrutiny.
He said that "one or two newspapers, Mr. Murdoch's papers"
would love to see the BBC lose its national status, "but I
think the great British public doesn't want to see that
Murdoch himself was watching from afar.
"BBC getting into deeper mess. After Savile scandal, now
prominent news program falsely names senior pol as
paedophile," he wrote on his Twitter website on Saturday.
It is not just the BBC and the likes of Entwistle and Patten
who are in the spotlight.
Thompson, whom Entwistle succeeded in mid-September, has also
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.
Britain's Murdoch-owned Sunday Times queried how Thompson
could have been unaware of claims about Savile during his
tenure at the BBC as he had told British lawmakers, saying
his lawyers had written to the paper addressing the
allegations in early September, while he was still director