The Director General of the BBC stepped down on Saturday under tremendous pressure stemming from a controversial report that accused a British politician of child abuse.
George Entwistle, who was the BBC’s shortest-serving director general, took up his post on Sept. 17. On Nov. 2, the story aired on BBC’s Newsnight that forced Entwistle’s resignation. Faulty reporting is being blamed for the egregious error. Newsnight’s apology letter, posted on its website, states in part:
“The BBC has issued an unreserved apology for a Newsnight report which led to Lord McAlpine being wrongly implicated in the alleged sexual abuse of children at north Wales care homes. It comes after a victim, Steve Messham, apologized to the former Tory treasurer after saying he did not assault him. Newsnight had reported Mr Messham’s claims against a leading 1980s Tory politician but did not name him. The BBC also announced an ‘immediate pause’ in all Newsnight investigations.”
A commentary in British newspaper The Telegraph lambasted Newsnight and the BBC for the “sloppy reports.” The BBC was sloppy, said the commentary, in its approach to researching the story, verifying facts, and vetting information.
“Good journalism is in peril in Britain today,” lamented The Telegraph.
The Telegraph commentary noted that “Newsnight hedged its bets: it did not broadcast the name of the individual it wanted to ‘expose’ as a pedophile, leaving it to users of social media sites such as Twitter to name him.”
Newsnight used a freelance organization to provide much of the story. The organization, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, is affiliated with London’s City University and funded by David Potter, a former Labor Party donor.
The BBC has taking numerous actions following the incident. The BBC immediately suspended all co-productions with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. It assigned a senior news executive to supervise Friday night’s edition of Newsnight. It immediately paused all Newsnight investigations under Entwistle’s instruction to “assess editorial robustness and supervision,” according to the BBC website. It also broadcast an apology on Friday’s program.
Lord McAlpine, for his part, is not taking the situation lying down. In a lengthy statement that was published by British media outlet The Guardian, McAlpine described the situation in detail and his involvement (or lack thereof).
His concluding comment in the statement alludes—not very subtly—to probable impending legal action against those involved in the faulty reporting:
“I conclude by reminding those who have defamed me or who intend to do so that in making this statement I am by no means giving up my right to seek redress at law and repeat that I expressly reserve my rights to take all such steps as I and my solicitors consider necessary to protect my interests.”
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