Crisis ‘has dented public trust in news sources’

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The “monumental failures” at the BBC must prompt a complete overhaul of the corporation’s management structures, according to a senior politician.

John Whittingdale, chairman of the Commons culture, media and sport committee, said the crisis at the BBC was so serious because it had undermined public trust in traditional news outlets.

The Conservative MP said the corporation’s “deserved” reputation as one of the finest broadcasters in the world had been endangered.

The BBC has been engulfed in troubles as a result of a Newsnight programme that mistakenly implicated Lord McAlpine in a sex abuse scandal and the ongoing issues over its handling of the Jimmy Savile abuse claims.

Mr Whittingdale, in a keynote address at the Society of Editors annual conference in Belfast yesterday, said: “What happened at the BBC, that plainly the checks and safeguards which are necessary failed at every level, and that therefore there does need in my view to be a complete overhaul of the management structure.

“Because the greatest strength of the BBC is that it can be trusted by people; people didn’t doubt that if they heard an item on the news on the BBC that it must be true. And it is a failure therefore in the BBC of quality control which is the basic requirement of trust and I think that is quite destructive.”

The conference was hit by a number of late withdrawals of BBC delegates as they focused on the travails at the corporation.

Another scheduled contributor at the conference who sent his apologies was Iain Overton, who quit yesterday as editor of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the independent organisation that helped put together the controversial Newsnight report about Lord McAlpine.

Mr Whittingdale told the delegates who did attend that the crucial distinction that separated newspapers and broadcasters from anonymous information available online was reliability.

“The BBC’s failure was so serious because the dividing line between gossip on the internet and serious investigative journalism seemed to break down in terms of the programme broadcast on Newsnight,” he said.

Mr Whittingdale also criticised last week’s actions by presenter Phillip Schofield, who handed the Prime Minister a list of alleged paedophiles he had found online live on ITV1’s This Morning.

“In my view, that was grossly irresponsible,” he said.