The BBC’s director-general, George Entwistle, has said he had no regrets about axing Newsnight over a report that wrongly implicated a former Tory member in a child abuse scandal. When questioned by BBC’s John Humphrys, George Entwistle admitted he did not know about the Newsnight investigation until the day after it was broadcast.
The BBC boss said he was also unaware of a tweet 12 hours before the programme aired, from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, suggesting it was going to identify a senior political figure.
Entwistle claimed: “I didn’t see that tweet. This tweet was not brought to my attention so I found out about this film after it had gone out.”
James Lee, the chairman of the TBIJ, has released a statement saying: “The Trustees are appalled at what appears to be a breach of its standards. To the extent that the principles of The Bureau have been ignored by an involvement in this story, remedial action will be taken against those responsible.” Mr Entwistle said the 32-year-old Newsnight programme had “a fantastic investigative record” and it would be “disproportionate at this stage to talk about closing Newsnight down”. However, he said the report on child abuse allegations was “unacceptable” and “should never have gone out”, warning that staff involved in the programme could now face disciplinary action.
Responding to the BBC investigation into the Newsnight report, Harriet Harman, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport said: “Even before we learn the results of the urgent report by BBC Scotland director Ken MacQuarrie, commissioned by the director-general, it is absolutely clear that something has gone badly wrong at Newsnight.” Kevin Marsh, a former editor of the Today programme and BBC College of Journalism, said it was “extraordinary” Mr Entwistle was unaware of the report following the storm over the dropping of Newsnight’s investigation into Jimmy Savile. MP John Whittingdale, chairman of the Commons Culture, Media and Sport select committee, described the debacle as “the most appalling failure of management at every level of the BBC”.
Despite a number of requests, the BBC told Sky News it would not be making Mr Entwistle, or any other executive, available for interview on Saturday.
Newsnight made an unreserved apology on air on Friday night for the broadcast on 2 November after Steve Messham admitted the man who abused him as a teenager at a care home in North Wales was not former Conservative Party treasurer Lord McAlpine. The 70-year-old found himself at the centre of internet speculation after Mr Messham told the BBC2 programme he had been abused by a senior Conservative from the Thatcher era. On Friday, Lord McAlpine broke cover to issue a vehement public denial of the “wholly false and seriously defamatory” claims against him. His solicitors have indicated they are preparing to sue for defamation.