Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 25 October 2014

BBC staff face disciplinary action

George Entwistle's pay-off after quitting as BBC director-general after just 54 days in the job has drawn widespread criticism

Senior BBC employees are facing the prospect of disciplinary action after the corporation admitted the Newsnight programme which mistakenly implicated a former Tory politician in a child sex abuse scandal failed to complete "basic journalistic checks".

It comes as the Prime Minister and Culture Secretary Maria Miller added their voices to growing criticism over the £450,000 pay-off given to former director-general George Entwistle, calling it "hard to justify" in the wake of the botched investigation by the BBC's current affairs show.

Mr Entwistle, who resigned on Saturday, has been awarded a full year's pay after bowing out 54 days into his reign, despite normally being entitled to only half that figure. BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten on Monday defended the sum, saying it was "justified and necessary" to allow a clean break and avoid lengthy delays.

The settlement was discussed in Parliament on a further day of drama which saw two senior figures - BBC director of news Helen Boaden and her deputy Stephen Mitchell - step aside from their posts temporarily.

On Monday night, the official report into the botched Newsnight programme by the BBC's Scotland director Ken MacQuarrie found there was confusion about who had the ultimate responsibility for "final editorial sign-off" on the story which falsely linked Lord McAlpine to a paedophile ring.

In the report, he said the programme's editorial management structure had been "seriously weakened" as a result of the editor having to step aside over the Jimmy Savile scandal, and the departure of the deputy editor. Mr MacQuarrie added that there were shortcomings in the quality of the journalism.

He said: "During the editorial decision-making process, some of the basic journalistic checks were not completed. Specifically, identification was not confirmed by photograph with the first victim. The second victim could not be traced in order to provide up-to-date corroboration."

Although legal advice was sought over the report, no right of reply was offered to the unnamed individual at the centre of the allegation. The programme featured an interview with Steve Messham, an abuse victim who said a senior political figure of the time abused him. He later said he wrongly identified his abuser and apologised. The BBC said Peter Johnston, director of BBC Northern Ireland, had been involved in the decisions about the Newsnight report.

The BBC Trust said Mr MacQuarrie's findings of "serious failures" were "very concerning". A spokeswoman said: "It is clear from the MacQuarrie report on the November 2 Newsnight that there were serious failures in the normal checks and balances that the trust expects from BBC journalism, and these were compounded by the confusion created by the dual reporting structure in news established during the Pollard inquiry. This is very concerning."

Acting director-general Tim Davie has set about to trying to restore confidence in the broadcaster, claiming his role was "to get a grip of the situation". Mr Davie addressed staff by email on Monday telling them he was "determined to give the BBC the clarity and leadership it deserves", and said management would pull together as "one team".

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