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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Theresa May is paying the price for mismanaging Boris Johnson

The Foreign Secretary's bruised ego may end up destroying Theresa May. 

And to think that Theresa May scheduled her big speech for this Friday to make sure that Conservative party conference wouldn’t be dominated by the matter of Brexit. Now, thanks to Boris Johnson, it won’t just be her conference, but Labour’s, which is overshadowed by Brexit in general and Tory in-fighting in particular. (One imagines that the Labour leadership will find a way to cope somehow.)

May is paying the price for mismanaging Johnson during her period of political hegemony after she became leader. After he was betrayed by Michael Gove and lacking any particular faction in the parliamentary party, she brought him back from the brink of political death by making him Foreign Secretary, but also used her strength and his weakness to shrink his empire.

The Foreign Office had its responsibility for negotiating Brexit hived off to the newly-created Department for Exiting the European Union (Dexeu) and for navigating post-Brexit trade deals to the Department of International Trade. Johnson was given control of one of the great offices of state, but with no responsibility at all for the greatest foreign policy challenge since the Second World War.

Adding to his discomfort, the new Foreign Secretary was regularly the subject of jokes from the Prime Minister and cabinet colleagues. May likened him to a dog that had to be put down. Philip Hammond quipped about him during his joke-fuelled 2017 Budget. All of which gave Johnson’s allies the impression that Johnson-hunting was a licensed sport as far as Downing Street was concerned. He was then shut out of the election campaign and has continued to be a marginalised figure even as the disappointing election result forced May to involve the wider cabinet in policymaking.

His sense of exclusion from the discussions around May’s Florence speech only added to his sense of isolation. May forgot that if you aren’t going to kill, don’t wound: now, thanks to her lost majority, she can’t afford to put any of the Brexiteers out in the cold, and Johnson is once again where he wants to be: centre-stage. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.