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BBC chief out amid widening scandal

Enwistle held office 8 weeks

George Entwistle said a false report about a Conservative official reflected unnaceptable standards.

Andrew Cowie/AFP/Getty Images

George Entwistle said a false report about a Conservative official reflected unnaceptable standards.

LONDON — The director general of the BBC resigned late Saturday in the wake of a growing scandal surrounding news reports about prominent public figures accused of pedophilia.

George Entwistle, who was appointed to head the network less than eight weeks ago, said in a statement that he had decided that ‘‘the honorable thing to do is to step down.’’

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His announcement followed a report on the BBC’s flagship “Newsnight’’ program that the BBC said wrongly implicated a former official of Britain’s ruling Conservative Party in the sexual abuse of a teenage boy.

Earlier Saturday, Entwistle said the report, broadcast Nov. 2, reflected ‘‘unacceptable journalistic standards’’ and never should have been broadcast.

The broadcast seems to have only compounded the scandals plaguing the network since the revelation last month that the late Jimmy Savile, a longtime BBC television host, was suspected of having sexually abused perhaps hundreds of people.

Entwistle had recently appeared before Parliament to answer questions about a different “Newsnight’’ report, about the Savile case, that was never broadcast.

Late last year, Entwistle confirmed, the show had declined to air a report concerning accusations of a long history of child sexual abuse, some of it on BBC premises, against Savile, the host of popular BBC programs from the 1970s to the 1990s.

‘HonoraBLEthing to do’

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Senior BBC executives were faced with questions about their roles in the decision not to broadcast the segment and forced, alongside the former director general of the BBC, Mark Thompson, now chief executive of The New York Times Co., to deny allegations of a cover-up. More than 300 women, and two men, have alleged they were abused by Savile.

The Nov. 2 “Newsnight’’ report contained an interview with a man, Steve Messham, who said he had been taken to a local hotel from a children’s home in the North Wales town of Wrexham in the 1980s and abused more than a dozen times by a man he identified as a senior Conservative politician from the years when Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was in power.

It fueled widespread speculation about the identity of the politician involved. A former government official, Alistair McAlpine, was named online.

But it emerged that he had been the victim of mistaken identity. On Friday, Messham apologized, saying the actual McAlpine bore no resemblance to the man in the photos shown to him by the police.

The “Newsnight’’ broadcast on Friday was a postmortem of the story, featuring a broad apology to McAlpine, coupled with an announcement that all investigative reporting by “Newsnight’’ was being suspended indefinitely.

As director general, Entwistle said in his statement, he was ‘‘responsible for all content.’’ adding that ‘‘that the BBC should appoint a new leader.’’ Lawyers for McAlpine have suggested the BBC could be among the targets for a lawsuit.

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