THE BBC was last night braced for further bloodletting, as recriminations flew within the Corporation over the resignation of director-general George Entwistle.
Following talks last night with the BBC Trust, acting director-general Tim Davie will today set out his plans for dealing with some of the problems arising from a Newsnight broadcast that linked a senior Conservative to sex abuse “as a first step in restoring public confidence”.
The pledge, made through a Trust spokesman, came as MPs demanded staff directly responsible for the Newsnight child abuse investigation were held accountable for their actions.
As the storm over Mr Entwistle’s resignation intensified, Lord Patten, chairman of the BBC Trust, sought to rally staff, insisting he was committed to rebuilding trust and confidence in the Corporation in the wake of the Newsnight fiasco and the Jimmy Savile abuse scandal.
But he found his own position under fire, with senior figures suggesting that as the man who appointed Mr Entwistle, the Trust chairman’s own position was now untenable.
Mr Entwistle quit on Saturday night, saying he was taking responsibility for the “unacceptable” Newsnight report that wrongly implicated former Tory Party treasurer Lord McAlpine in the north Wales child abuse scandal of the 1970s and 1980s. He had not known of the programme in advance.
However, John Whittingdale, chairman of the Commons culture, media and sport select committee, said that senior staff who were directly involved must also be held to account.
The programme was cleared for broadcast at the level of the BBC board of management, even though the abuse victim, Steve Messham, was never shown a photograph of Lord McAlpine and the peer was not given a chance to refute the allegations.
“If George Entwistle was unaware of the programme, which he says he was, then clearly somebody below him took the decision that it was right to broadcast it,” Mr Whittingdale said.
“That was a terrible decision and people need to take responsibility for that. So potentially, it may require other people to resign.”
Former Tory Cabinet minister David Mellor, who had responsibility for broadcasting, said that having made the original appointment, Lord Patten should not now be in a position to choose his successor.
“If I was him, I would consider whether I am so tainted by this nonsense.” Mr Mellor said. “He [Mr Entwistle] is not a credible person.”
Lord Patten insisted that he would not bow to pressure to quit.
“If I don’t do that, and if we don’t restore the huge confidence and trust that people have in the BBC, then I’m sure people will tell me to take my cards and clear off,” he said.
“I am not going to this morning take my marching orders from Mr Murdoch’s newspapers. I think there are big issues which need to be tackled involving the BBC and that’s what I want to give my attention to.”
Lord Patten said of Mr Entwistle: “He went extremely honourably. I didn’t try to argue him out of it, because I think he had made his mind up and I think it was the right decision.”
He indicated that Mr Entwistle should have been better prepared for his catastrophic Saturday morning interview with Radio 4’s John Humphrys, which many observers believe finally sealed his fate.
“You don’t go on an interview with John Humphrys and expect the bowling to be slow full tosses,” Lord Patten said.
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