Patten says BBC must have thorough radical overhaul

As director general steps down after 'shoddy' journalism, head of ruling body seeks changes

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 November, 2012, 3:55am

Britain's BBC must undergo a radical overhaul in the wake of "shoddy" journalism which led to the resignation of its chief or its future will be in doubt, Chris Patten, the head of the state-funded broadcaster's governing body, said yesterday.

Patten, chairman of the BBC Trust, said opponents of the BBC, especially Rupert Murdoch's media empire, would take advantage of the turmoil to increase the pressure on its long-term rival.

A senior figure in the Conservative Party, and the last governor of Hong Kong, Patten told the BBC: "Does the BBC need a thorough structural radical overhaul? Absolutely it does and that is what we will have to do."

The BBC director general, George Entwistle, resigned late on Saturday just two months into the job, after the corporation's flagship news programme aired mistaken allegations of child sex abuse against a former leading politician.

Entwistle was already under pressure after revelations that a long-time star presenter had been a paedophile. In his departure statement he said the unacceptable standards of the Newsnight report had damaged the public's confidence in the 90-year-old BBC.

"As the director general of the BBC, I am ultimately responsible for all content as the editor-in-chief, and I have therefore decided that the honourable thing for me to do is to step down," he said.

Patten joined critics who said a complex hierarchical management structure at the BBC was partly to blame. One of the BBC's most prominent journalists, Jeremy Paxman, a Newsnight presenter, said that in recent years management had become bloated while cash was cut from programme budgets.

Paxman said Entwistle "has been brought low by cowards and incompetents."

Patten, in charge of finding Entwistle's successor after describing the Newsnight journalism as "shoddy", said changes needed to be made. "One of the jokes I made, and actually it wasn't all that funny, when I came to the BBC was that there were more senior leaders in the BBC than there were in the Chinese communist party," Patten said.

Entwistle succeeded Mark Thompson only in September and almost immediately faced one of the biggest crises in the history of the BBC.

This was the revelation by rival broadcaster ITV that the late Jimmy Savile, a major television personality in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, had sexually abused young girls.

Suggestions then surfaced of a paedophile ring inside the BBC at the time, and a cover-up. Police have launched an inquiry.

The knives were out for Entwistle on Friday after the BBC apologised for the mistaken allegation that an ex-politician had abused children.

The last straw came when Entwistle was forced to admit that he had not been told about the Newsnight report before it aired, nor known or asked who the alleged abuser was until the name appeared in social media.