BBC turmoil deepens as news director and deputy quit

BBC news editor Helen Boaden has stepped aside
BBC news editor Helen Boaden has stepped aside
Have your say

The BBC’s news director Helen Boaden and deputy Stephen Mitchell have stepped aside.

• Future of Newsnight could be in the balance

• Patten says BBC ‘needs to get a grip’

The BBC is reporting that Fran Unsworth, the BBC’s head of newsgathering, and Ceri Thomas, the editor of BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme, have been asked to fill in for Ms Boaden and Mr Mitchell.

Before he quit, Mr Entwistle warned that Mr McQuarrie’s report could result in disciplinary action against staff, and over the weekend MPs demanded that those directly involved in the broadcast were held to account.

The future of Newsnight may also be in the balance, with Lord Patten warning there would have to be some “tough managerial decisions”.

A trust spokesman said Mr Davie - formerly chief executive of BBC Worldwide - would be setting out his plans for dealing with the issues raised by the broadcast “as a first step in restoring public confidence” in the corporation.

For now Downing Street appears willing to give the BBC a chance to get its own house in order in the wake of the crisis triggered by the disclosures of the Jimmy Savile child abuse, with 10 sources saying ministers would not be “jumping in” to intervene.

Lord Patten, however, acknowledged that the corporation needed to “get a grip” and turn the situation around or his own position would be on the line.


“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 told Sky News’ Murnaghan programme.

“I am not going to 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.”

The news comes as the BBC was plunged in to further turmoil today after criticism of its £450,000 pay-off to Director General George Entwhistle who quit yesterday over the Newsnight sex abuse allegations.

Meanwhile Lord Patten defended himself following calls for his resignation. As he battled to cope with the crisis which has engulfed the BBC, the former Conservative cabinet minister denied pushing Mr Entwistle out of his job.

However, the trust chairman admitted he did not try to talk Mr Entwistle out of quitting after the Newsnight programme, which led to former Tory treasurer Lord McAlpine being wrongly implicated in the north Wales sex abuse scandal.


Today, acting director-general Tim Davie will detail plans to deal with the issues arising from the Newsnight broadcast. The trust said today’s announcement was designed “as a first step in restoring public confidence”. The BBC broadcast allegations of sex abuse at the children’s home involving a “senior Tory figure of the Thatcher era” which led to Lord McAlpine being named, but it was subsequenlty revealed the allegations against him were wholly false.

But last night, criticism of the BBC continued, with former senior figures calling for more heads to roll and unions demanding a rethink of cost-cutting exercises. Writing in today’s Scotsman, Atholl Duncan, former head of news and current affairs at BBC Scotland, warns that those reponsible for the “botched” Newsnight investigation should also quit, along with Mr Entwistle.

He adds: “The journalists and programme executives in the chain of command, who have erred in judgment, must also go – not just to satisfy more media and political bloodlust, but to show that those responsible are responsible.

“The Newsnight brand must be sacrificed to save the global reputation of BBC journalism. The governance and oversight of such investigations must be reformed.”

Legacy of cuts

In further criticism, veteran broadcaster Jonathan Dimbleby said the Corporation was also having to deal with the legacy of the cuts carried out under Mr Entwistle’s predecessor, Mark Thompson.

Mr Dimbleby said Mr Entwistle had been let down by people who failed to keep him informed of what was going on in Newsnight and he questioned whether the job had become too big for one person.

“The last director-general, with all respect to him, presided over cuts that had to take place,” he said. “Where did the cuts take place? Not in the management but at the frontline and overwhelmingly in news and current affairs, which is the defining characteristic of the international BBC.”

Lord Patten insisted he would stay in his post to help restore faith in the BBC’s reputation.

He said: “I think my job is to make sure that we learn the lessons of those inquiries and restore confidence and trust in the BBC. If I don’t do that, then I am sure people will let me know.

“If you’re saying does the BBC need a thorough structural radical overhaul, then absolutely it does.”

Lord Patten told the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme that his own job was to show licence fee-payers “that the BBC has a grip, that we can get ourselves back on the road”.


He also refused to give any guarantees about the future of Newsnight, amid speculation it is set to be axed.

Meanwhile, Home Secretary Theresa May said it was the right decision for Mr Entwistle to go.

She said: “At the core of question about the Newsnight piece on north Wales is a question about the quality of journalism. I think the BBC has got a job to do to restore that trust. It is an issue of trust and credibility, and building trust and credibility.”

Downing Steet indicated that Prime Minister David Cameron did not believe the BBC was facing an “existential crisis” and ministers would not be “jumping in” to intervene.

However, one source was quoted saying: “The key word for us is ‘grip’. The BBC needs to show grip.”

The National Union of Journalists has called for the wide-ranging cutbacks at the BBC in Scotland to be put on hold, as veteran Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman said the cuts had played a part in the programme’s downfall.

Mr Paxman said: “The real problem here is the BBC’s decision, in the wake of the Hutton Inquiry, to play safe by appointing biddable people. They then compounded the problem by enforcing a series of cuts on programme budgets, while bloating the management.


“It is a great pity that a talented man has been sacrificed, while time-servers prosper.”

Paul Holleran, Scottish NUJ organiser, said: “We are already seeing staff trying to cover two or three jobs and further cuts are on the way. The whole news and current affairs structure needs to be robust from top to bottom.

“There needs to be strong decision-making at the top, but also proper resources in place at the bottom. The current proposals will affect a number of very experienced journalists if they go ahead.”

Lesley Riddoch: BBC could turn crisis into a coup