Entwistle’s sudden departure as the BBC’s chief executive was prompted by outrage over a report last week on Newsnight, a flagship current affairs programmes, that wrongly implicated an ex-Conservative Party politician in a paedophile scandal involving a children’s home in Wales.
Entwistle said the report, broadcast on November 2, reflected “unacceptable journalistic standards” and never should have been broadcast.
That broadcast has only compounded the problems facing the network since the revelation last month that a longtime BBC television host, Jimmy Savile, was suspected of having sexually abused perhaps hundreds of young people over the course of decades, sometimes on the BBC premises. The network has been accused of covering up the accusations by canceling a Newsnight report on Savile last year, when Entwistle was a senior executive at the network.
He was barely two months into the job, heading one of the world’s largest media organizations. His departure followed the suspension in the past month of a number of senior producers as BBC struggled to find a path through what many commentators described as its greatest crisis in decades.
A 50-year-old career broadcaster who rose through the ranks of BBC producers, Entwistle made his announcement on the steps of the BBC’s new billion-dollar headquarters in central London. With the BBC’s chairman, Chris Patten, standing gloomily beside him, Entwistle said resigning was “the honorable thing to do.”
“The wholly exceptional events of the past few weeks have led me to conclude that the BBC should appoint a new leader,” he said. He added that the intense public scrutiny of the BBC that has resulted from the paedophile scandal should not lead people “to lose sight of the fact that the BBC is full of people of the greatest talent and the highest integrity.”
His statement that he was “responsible for all content” came after weeks of what the BBC’s harshest critics have described as obfuscation and evasion by the broadcaster’s management in the face of demands for explanations of how the fiascoes over the two Newsnight programmes had been allowed to happen.
As of late as Saturday morning, Entwistle was holding to the position he had taken for weeks, that he had not known about the November 2 Newsnight broadcast ahead of time because of the BBC’s longstanding tradition that the director-general not interfere with details of how programmes are made. “In the light of what has happened here, I wish that this was referred to me, but it wasn’t.”
Patten, BBC chairman, said Tim Davie, 45, the BBC’s director of audio and music, would become the acting director general. Patten, whose own position may now be imperiled, did not attempt to disguise the gravity of the situation, alluding to “unacceptable mistakes, unacceptably shoddy journalism” that culminated in the November 2 Newsnight programme.