BBC officials admit to failures

BBC chairman Chris Patten appeared before the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee.
Reuters televison
BBC chairman Chris Patten appeared before the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee.

LONDON — Two of the most senior figures at the BBC said Tuesday that there had been ‘‘basic’’ and ‘‘elementary’’ failures of the organization’s journalism when it wrongly implicated a former Conservative Party politician in sexual abuse, compounding a scandal that cost the BBC’s director general his job and plunged the organization deeper into crisis.

But, addressing a parliamentary panel, one of them, Chris Patten, the head of the supervisory BBC Trust, offered an unusually insistent defense of the former director general, George Entwistle, whom he had hired, and who had been labeled hapless and bumbling by many politicians and newspaper columnists before and after his resignation on Nov. 10.

‘‘The easiest thing to do is to join in the general trashing of a decent man and I’m not going to do that,’’ Patten told lawmakers, describing Entwistle as someone who ‘‘doesn’t deserve to be bullied or have his character demolished.’’


The report implicated but did not directly identify Alistair McAlpine, the former treasurer of the Conservative Party. McAlpine has since reached out-of-court libel settlements.

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Patten balked at questioning by one lawmaker, Philip Davies of the Conservative Party, who pressed him to provide an itinerary of his work schedule at the BBC.

‘‘Certainly not,’’ he said. ‘‘I think it’s a thoroughly impertinent question.’’

Patten and Tim Davie, the acting BBC director general, were addressing a parliamentary panel known for often aggressive interrogations in scandals at Britain’s newspapers and broadcasters. They were speaking just days before a separate inquiry into a phone hacking scandal, mainly at ­Rupert Murdoch’s British newspaper holdings, is to deliver a long-awaited report that could lead to tighter regulation of the rambunctious British press.

The combination of inquiries and findings seemed to ­illustrate once more the intense scrutiny faced by journalists and editors in Britain at a time when the news business is struggling to make a painful and costly adjustment to the digital era.


The newspaper scandal, in particular, has drawn in British politicians, including Prime Minister David Cameron, who have testified about what seems to have been a cozy relationship with Murdoch executives.

But Davie said that while the BBC, a British national institution, was going through a ­‘‘major crisis,’’ it was not in chaos. “This is not an organization that is falling apart internally,’’ he said.

One issue the parliamentary Culture, Media, and Sport Committee said it wants to explore is a decision by Patten to authorize resignation benefits to Entwistle, including a payoff equivalent to a full year’s salary of $750,000, twice the contractual obligation.

Patten said Tuesday that, in negotiations with Entwistle, ‘‘we either had to deal with it quickly there and then, broadly speaking on the terms of 12 months’’ salary as a payoff, or go through other procedures for compensation based on constructive and unfair dismissal, which would have cost the corporation a further $128,000.