BBC's director-general, George Entwistle, resigns over Newsnight mistakes

Investigation which wrongly identified a Tory peer as a child abuser topples the BBC's boss.

The BBC's director-general, George Entwistle, has resigned over mistakes made by Newsnight in reporting allegations of child abuse in a care home in north Wales. He had been in the post for just 54 days.

Entwistle made a statement just after 9pm alongside BBC Trust chairman Chris Patten. Patten referred to "unacceptable, shoddy" journalism at Newsnight, and praised Entwistle's "courage" in acting honourably by stepping down. Neither Entwistle or Patten took any questions, although Patten will appear on the Andrew Marr programme tomorrow.

Tim Davie, head of audio and music, will be acting director-general. As the FT's Ben Fenton notes, he does not have a journalistic background:

Yesterday, the BBC apologised for the Newsnight report which led to Tory peer Lord McAlpine being wrongly identified as a child abuser. It later emerged that the victim, Steve Messham, had identified another man.

Here is Entwistle's full statement:

In the light of the fact that the Director-General is also the Editor-in-Chief and ultimately responsible for all content; and in the light of the unacceptable journalistic standards of the Newsnight film broadcast on Friday 2nd November; I have decided that the honourable thing to do is to step down from the post of Director-General.

When appointed to the role, with 23 years' experience as a producer and leader at the BBC, I was confident the Trustees had chosen the best candidate for the post, and the right person to tackle the challenges and opportunities ahead. However, the wholly exceptional events of the past few weeks have led me to conclude that the BBC should appoint a new leader.

To have been the Director-General of the BBC even for a short period, and in the most challenging of circumstances, has been a great honour. While there is understandable public concern over a number of issues well covered in the media - which I’m confident will be addressed by the Review process - we must not lose sight of the fact that the BBC is full of people of the greatest talent and the highest integrity. That’s what will continue to make it the finest broadcaster in the world.

Many have contrasted Entwistle's decision with that of other media bosses who have been affected by scandal. The New Statesman's former editor - and current media commentator - Peter Wilby noted:

George Entwistle. Photo: Getty

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

Photo: Getty
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Labour's purge: how it works, and what it means

The total number of people removed will be small - but the rancour will linger. 

Labour has just kicked off its first big wave of expulsions, purging many voters from the party’s leadership rolls. Twitter is ablaze with activists who believe they have been kicked out because they are supporters of Jeremy Corbyn. There are, I'm told, more expulsions to come - what's going on?  Is Labour purging its rolls of Corbyn supporters?

The short answer is “No”.

If that opener feels familiar, it should: I wrote it last year, when the last set of purges kicked off, and may end up using it again next year. Labour has stringent rules about expressing support for other candidates and membership of other parties, which account for the bulk of the expulsions. It also has a code of conduct on abusive language which is also thinning the rolls, with supporters of both candidates being kicked off. 

Although the party is in significantly better financial shape than last year, it still is running a skeleton staff and is recovering from an expensive contest (in this case, to keep Britain in the European Union). The compliance unit itself remains small, so once again people from across the party staff have been dragooned in.

The process this year is pretty much the same: Labour party headquarters doesn’t have any bespoke software to match its voters against a long list of candidates in local elections, compiled last year and added to the list of candidates that stood against Labour in the 2016 local and devolved elections, plus a large backlog of complaints from activists.

It’s that backlog that is behind many of the highest-profile and most controversial examples. Last year, in one complaint that was not upheld, a local member was reported to the Compliance Unit for their failure to attend their local party’s annual barbecue. The mood in Labour, in the country and at Westminster, is significantly more bitter this summer than last and the complaints more personal. Ronnie Draper, Ronnie Draper, the general secretary of the Bfawu, the bakers’ union, one of Corbyn’s biggest supporters in the trade union movement, has been expelled, reported for tweets which included the use of the word “traitors” to refer to Labour opponents of Corbyn.  Jon Will Chambers, former bag carrier to Stella Creasy, and a vocal Corbyn critic on Twitter, has been kicked out for using a “Theresa May” twibbon to indicate his preference for May over Andrea Leadsom, in contravention of the party’s rules.

Both activities breach the letter of the party’s rules although you can (and people will) make good arguments against empowering other people to comb through the social media profiles of their opponents for reasons to dob them in.  (In both cases, I wouldn’t be shocked if both complaints were struck down on appeal)

I would be frankly astonished if Corbyn’s margin of victory – or defeat, as unlikely as that remains in my view – isn’t significantly bigger than the number of people who are barred from voting, which will include supporters of both candidates, as well as a number of duplicates (some people who paid £25 were in fact members before the freeze date, others are affliated trade unionists, and so on). 

What is unarguably more significant, as one party staffer reflected is, “the complaints are nastier now [than last year]”. More and more of the messages to compliance are firmly in what you might call “the barbecue category” – they are obviously groundless and based on personal animosity. That doesn’t feel like the basis of a party that is ready to unite at any level. Publicly and privately, most people are still talking down the chances of a split. It may prove impossible to avoid.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.