BBC director general Tim Davie vows to 'get a grip'

  • 12 November 2012
  • From the section UK
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The BBC's acting director general has vowed to "get a grip" following the resignation of George Entwistle over a Newsnight report on child abuse claims.

Tim Davie said he had set up a "clear line of command" in the news division.

The director and deputy director of news have been asked to "step aside" pending an internal review into the way claims about Jimmy Savile were handled.

BBC Northern Ireland's head says he had a role in the decision-making of the Newsnight report but would not resign.

Peter Johnston said he was not reconsidering his position.

Meanwhile, the inquiry into the Newsnight broadcast has identified "unacceptable" failings and said basic journalistic checks were not completed.

A summary of the findings by Ken MacQuarrie, director of BBC Scotland, has been released by the corporation, which said the full report would be issued after the completion of disciplinary proceedings, which will begin immediately.

It added that "there was a different understanding by the key parties about where the responsibility lay for the final editorial sign off for the story on the day".

'Justified and necessary'

The BBC Trust - the corporation's governing body - said Mr MacQuarrie's findings were "very concerning".

"It is clear... that there were serious failures in the normal checks and balances... The measures that Tim Davie has put in place are sensible and appropriate."

A BBC spokesman later confirmed Mr Johnston's involvement "in decisions about the BBC Newsnight report".

He added: "The next stage of this process is now under way. It will, amongst other things, seek to clarify decision-making roles and responsibilities."

Mr Entwistle resigned after eight weeks as director general following the 2 November Newsnight report which led to former Tory treasurer, Lord McAlpine, being wrongly accused of child abuse in north Wales in the 1980s.

The National Audit Office confirmed it would be speaking to the BBC Trust to investigate whether it should conduct a value for money study of the decision to grant him a payout £450,000 - a year's salary.

The BBC Trust said the NAO was "an important ally to the trust in its push to deliver better value for money for licence fee payers. If they chose to look at this we would be happy to co-operate fully".

Earlier, amid criticism from Downing Street of the pay-off, Lord Patten, chairman of the BBC Trust, wrote to Commons culture, media and sport committee chairman John Whittingdale, describing the decision as "justified and necessary".

His letter said the sum was what the BBC would have had to pay if the trust had fired Mr Entwistle and that the trust was considering sacking him if he had not volunteered his resignation.

In other developments:

  • In a Commons debate, Labour's deputy leader Harriet Harman urged Mr Entwistle to consider giving up half of his severance payment. Downing Street sources said David Cameron believed it was a matter for Mr Entwistle's "conscience" whether to accept it
  • Mr Davie told staff by email on Monday that there would be "no handbrake turn" in implementing work started by Mr Entwistle on "getting rid of anything that gets in the way of delivering the best of British creativity to our audiences"
  • Fran Unsworth, head of newsgathering, and Ceri Thomas, editor of Radio 4's Today programme have been asked to fill the respective roles of director and deputy director of news, for the time being, while, "to address the pressure on the Newsnight team", Karen O'Connor will become acting editor of the programme
  • A journalist involved with the north Wales investigation quit his job at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. BIJ editor Iain Overton had tweeted before broadcast that Newsnight was going to link a senior political figure with paedophilia
  • Former director general Mark Thompson said he was confident the BBC would bounce back as he started his new job as chief executive and president of the New York Times newspaper

Mr Davie was appointed as acting director general on Saturday after Mr Entwistle announced his resignation.

In his first televised interview since taking the role, Mr Davie told the BBC News channel: "If the public are going to get journalism they trust from the BBC I have to be, as director general, very clear on who is running the news operation and ensuring that journalism we put out passes muster.

"The first decision I have made is to get a grip of that, take action and build trust by putting a clear line of command in.

"Separately, we are going to look at the individual process, and there may be disciplinary action. But I want to be fair to people. I don't subscribe to the view that you should act very quickly in that regard and be unreasonable."

He said Mr Entwistle's pay-off was a matter for the BBC Trust.

Mr Davie told BBC Radio 4's World At One he hoped to talk to Lord McAlpine personally about the Newsnight broadcast.

Ken MacQuarrie's findings were presented to the acting director general on Sunday.

The BBC said it found that neither director of news Helen Boaden nor her deputy Steve Mitchell "had anything at all to do with the failed Newsnight investigation into Lord McAlpine".

However, they were in the chain of command at the time that Newsnight shelved an earlier investigation into abuse claims against former BBC presenter Jimmy Savile.

They had removed themselves from making decisions on some areas of BBC News output while a separate inquiry, by former head of Sky News Nick Pollard, was held into that decision.

The BBC said once the Pollard Review reports, Ms Boaden and Mr Mitchell "expect to then return to their positions".

Meanwhile, MP Chris Bryant said there should be one overall inquiry looking into the child abuse scandal and subsequent BBC row rather than nine separate investigations.

The BBC is also looking into the culture and practices at the corporation during Savile's career and its handling of past sexual harassment claims.

Also, inquiries have been set up by the government to look into the way the original investigation into the abuse in Wales was handled and separate inquiries have been launched by the Department of Health and Director of Public Prosecutions.

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