'Unacceptable' failings in abuse report: BBC

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 November, 2012, 5:15am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 November, 2012, 5:15am

BBC journalists made “unacceptable” failings by airing an investigation that wrongly implicated a senior Conservative politician in child sex abuse, an internal report by the broadcaster said on Monday.

The report into the botched investigation, which has plunged the British broadcaster into a crisis that has toppled its director-general, said that some “basic journalistic checks were not completed” by staff on the Newsnight show.

Newsnight, the BBC’s flagship current affairs programme, broadcast an item on November 2 falsely implicating former Conservative party treasurer Alistair McAlpine in abuse at a children’s home in Wales in the 1970s.

In a serious blow to the BBC’s prestigious reputation, it was then forced to retract the report after McAlpine’s accuser said the politician was not his abuser and was the victim of mistaken identity.

The story unravelled just weeks after a separate scandal broke over the late BBC star Jimmy Savile, who is now accused of serial child sex offences.

The broadcaster’s director-general George Entwistle dramatically resigned over the Newsnight fiasco on Saturday and two other top BBC executives also stood aside on Monday.

The author of the internal report, BBC Scotland director Ken MacQuarrie, said the Welsh abuse investigation had failed to make basic checks such as verifying with McAlpine’s accuser that he was the right man.

“During the editorial decision-making process, some of the basic journalistic checks were not completed. Specifically, identification was not confirmed by photograph,” a summary of the report said.

MacQuarrie added that “no right of reply was offered to the unnamed individual at the centre of the allegation” and that this “highly complex story” had been broadcast just four days after it was commissioned.

The Newsnight investigation did not identify McAlpine, but he was widely named on social networking sites as the alleged paedophile, forcing him to publicly denounce the claims.