BBC Director General and ‘editor-in-chief’, George Entwistle resigned from his post following a string of mistakes during his time in positions of authority. Of all the news stories you would expect the BBC to break it would be one concerning a change at the top of its own corporation – but ITN got the scoop. The announcement came just seconds too late to make the BBC 9 0’clock news bulletin, which epitomises the corporation’s bad luck over recent weeks.
The decision came after the BBC themselves made headlines by not airing a Newsnight interview that revealed allegations into Jimmy Savile’s paedophile past as well as airing another Newsnight programme which wrongly accused former MP, Lord McAlpine, of child abuse in a North Wales care home. The freelancing fiasco about how presenters were paid indirectly through separate companies to avoid tax wouldn’t have helped matters either.
Entwistle had been in charge for just 54 days, making him the shortest director general in BBC history. His time at the top was short and sour, rather than sweet, after being made a scapegoat to take the blame for the mistakes of others. Of course, part of his responsibility was to oversee the corporation, but a consequence of a big corporate hierarchy like the BBC’s is that the people who made the crucial mistakes will escape punishment and carry on, if not at the BBC then at another media organisation. These flaws don’t even concern good journalism – it’s common sense. Programmes about child abuse should have alarm bells ringing to be referred for checks.
However, Entwistle’s name may not have been on the Director General’s door when the root of these problems occurred but he was high enough in other positions at the corporation to have done something about it. We don’t get second chances often in life but Entwistle did when he was promoted to the top spot. Part of his role was to deal with controversy when it occurs and it’s a paradox that John Humphreys’ interview with Entwistle on Radio 4’s Today programme on the morning of his resignation probably played a part in his decision to leave. Instead of sounding like a man of authority Entwistle came across bumbling about facts, not displaying qualities of a strong leader.
The BBC’s ability to examine and interrogate themselves must be commended; this is one of the reasons why the ‘crisis’ will be resolved when the news becomes chip paper. Critical times lie ahead for one of the world’s much-loved and trusted broadcasters. Former head of BBC Worldwide, Tim Davie, takes over as ‘acting Director General’ for now. He lacks a journalistic background but also lacks involvement in any of the scandals that contributed to his predecessor’s downfall. A series of unfortunate events led to Entwistle’s resignation but this was probably the right decision in order to sustain the public’s trust in the organisation that we fund through our licence fee.