DEPUTY Prime Minister Nick Clegg yesterday joined the chorus of criticism over the BBC’s decision to pay £450,000 to George Entwistle, describing the severance package awarded to the departed director-general as “hard to explain”.
The six-figure sum picked up by Mr Entwistle following his resignation at the weekend, just 54 days into his reign, has provoked a bitter backlash against the scandal-hit corporation, and Mr Clegg suggested the 50-year-old could have refused the offer of a full year’s pay.
While he urged caution over calls for the government to intervene in the BBC’s management, other senior political figures were less reserved, with London Mayor Boris Johnson calling for a “wholesale massacre of everybody involved, professionally speaking” in the light of an erroneous Newsnight programme which led to former Tory treasurer Lord McAlpine being falsely implicated in a child sex abuse scandal.
The latest row came as the BBC began the process of disciplinary action following the fallout from the programme, with several senior figures expected to be carpeted for their roles in allowing it to be broadcast.
Mr Clegg’s reservations over the payout given to Mr Entwistle echoed concerns expressed by Prime Minister David Cameron and culture secretary Maria Miller.
The deputy prime minister said: “Mr Entwistle’s payoff is hard to justify, it is hard to explain. I guess he did not need to take it when it was offered to him.
“It is difficult to justify, difficult to explain, isn’t it? My reaction was like everybody else’s. Mr Entwistle was offered this money, he did not need to take it and it is up to the BBC to justify, as Lord Patten [chair of the BBC Trust, the corporation’s governing body] sought to, why they took this decision.”
But he pointed out: “It is not really for government to micro-manage these things in the BBC. The BBC is quite rightly independent of politics and of government but it is up to the BBC to seek to justify these kinds of decisions when they are made.”
Mr Johnson, meanwhile, was scathing in his assessment of how the BBC came to run the Newsnight investigation, but backed Lord Patten to keep his role.
He said there had been “an absolutely catastrophic breakdown of journalistic standards” surrounding the flagship current affairs programme and that meant other heads should roll.
“First of all, they ignored the Savile scoop which they were sitting on, and it seems like they had quite a lot of evidence and then they had this crazy switching the steering wheel in the other direction and going for some ‘top Tory paedo’ without any real evidence,” he said.
An official report into the botched Newsnight programme by BBC Scotland director Ken MacQuarrie found there was confusion about who had the ultimate responsibility for “final editorial sign-off” on the story which falsely linked Lord McAlpine to a paedophile ring.
In the report, he said the programme’s editorial management structure had been “seriously weakened” as a result of the editor having to step aside over the Jimmy Savile scandal, and due to the departure of the deputy editor. Mr MacQuarrie added that there were shortcomings in the quality of the journalism.
The BBC said Peter Johnston, director of BBC Northern Ireland, had been involved in the decisions about the Newsnight report, and it intends to clarify the role he played in the fiasco.