London - The chairperson of the BBC's governing board on Sunday called for radical change in the world's largest broadcaster after it was plunged into crisis following the resignation of its chief executive in a sex abuse row.
Director-general George Entwistle quit on Saturday night, just 54 days into the job, after the flagship BBC programme Newsnight admitted it had wrongly implicated a politician in abuse at a Welsh children's home.
His departure leaves the organisation in chaos as it struggles to restore trust in its journalism and battles the scandal surrounding Jimmy Savile, the late BBC television star now alleged to have been a prolific child sex offender.
Chris Patten, the chairperson of the BBC Trust, said there must now be a “thorough, structural, radical overhaul” of the way the BBC was run, although he said he would not be quitting over the row.
The allegations against Savile, who died last year aged 84, and the botched Newsnight report have left the BBC facing one of the most serious crises of its 90-year history.
“The wholly exceptional events of the past few weeks have led me to conclude that the BBC should appoint a new leader,” Entwistle said in a statement outside the broadcaster's London headquarters on Saturday.
“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.”
The announcement came the day after Newsnight was forced to apologise for wrongly implicating a senior Conservative party figure in abuse at a Welsh children's home in the 1970s.
The director-general admitted he had no knowledge of the show before it was aired, in itself a source of criticism, but said quitting was “the honourable thing to do” since he was ultimately responsible for all the BBC's output.
He has been replaced by Tim Davie, a former Pepsi executive who is currently the BBC's director of audio and music, while the BBC Trust finds a more permanent replacement.
A major police investigation is currently under way into claims that Savile abused up to 300 children over a 40-year period, including on BBC premises.
The probe has so far resulted in the arrests of former glam rocker Gary Glitter and comedian Freddie Starr, while a third man was arrested on Sunday and subsequently bailed.
Wilfred De’ath, 75, who produced a radio show for Savile, told the Telegraph newspaper online that he had been arrested at his flat in Cambridge. He said he was a victim of mistaken identity.
Amid outcry at how Savile could have got away with it for so long, the BBC has also launched its own inquiries into the scandal.
Patten said he was keen to see these through, as well as the urgent review Entwistle had ordered into the Newsnight fiasco.
“My job is to make sure that we learn the lessons of those inquiries and that we restore confidence and trust in the BBC,” he said.
The challenge he faces was laid bare on the front pages of Sunday's newspapers.
The Independent on Sunday declared Entwistle “Out of touch. Out of depth. Out of a job”, while the Mail on Sunday declared a “Bloodbath at the BBC”.
Entwistle, who first joined the BBC as a broadcast trainee in 1989, was under pressure to explain the Savile scandal from almost the moment he was installed as director-general on September 17.
This included a row over why Newsnight dropped an investigation last December into claims against the late presenter. The BBC has denied suggestions it axed the report because it would clash with a Christmas tribute to Savile.
As director of BBC Vision, Entwistle was in charge of all television output when the Savile report was cut, and he also approved the Christmas tribute.
Entwistle, who edited Newsnight himself a decade ago, admitted on Saturday that the corporation faced a “crisis of trust”.
Culture minister Maria Miller welcomed his departure as “regrettable but the right decision”, saying: “It is vital that credibility and public trust in this important national institution is restored.”
But Newsnight anchor Jeremy Paxman said Entwistle had been “brought low by cowards and incompetents”.
“I had hoped that George might stay to sort this out. It is a great pity that a talented man has been sacrificed,” he said. - Sapa-AFP