BBC needs a radical overhaul to restore public trust, says Patten

Nov 11, 2012

Newsnight item was cleared at ‘every damned level’ and yet still made a horrendous error, says chairman


THE BBC management needs a thorough and radical "structural overhaul" to ensure that the Newsnight fiasco which caused Lord McAlpine to be wrongly identified as a sex abuser is not repeated, the chairman of the BBC Trust, Lord (Chris) Patten, said this morning.

"We now know that the Newsnight programme went up through every damned layer of bureaucracy and still emerged," he said of the item broadcast on Friday 2 November in which Steve Messham, a one-time resident of a north Wales care home, claimed he had been abused as a boy by a senior Tory figure from the Thatcher era. Newsnight did not broadcast Lord McAlpine's name, but a rash of speculation on Twitter quickly led to the former Tory party treasurer being wrongly identified as the perpetrator.

Patten was appearing on The Andrew Marr Show the morning after Director General George Entwistle announced his resignation over the Newsnight error for which, as the BBC's editor-in-chief, he felt bound to take responsibility.

Asked by Andrew Marr whether Entwistle had jumped or been pushed, Patten insisted Entwistle had offered his resignation without being asked to do so.

Questioned about calls in the Sunday papers for his own head, Patten dismissed these as coming predictably from "the Murdoch press".

Patten expressed shock at the fact, now widely disseminated, that the Newsnight team had not even shown a photograph of Lord McAlpine to Messham to check if he was accusing the right man.

But asked by Marr whether Newsnight itself was now "toast", he responded: "It is a rather quick judgment to come to".

Asked again about Newsnight's future, given the need to restore public trust in BBC journalism, Patten talked about the late-night current affairs "slot" being important, raising the possibility that the Newsnight brand could be dropped for a newly named and managed nightly programme.

Patten picked up on a point made by Max Hastings who said the remit of the BBC Director General was too great for one man. As Editor of The Daily Telegraph, Hastings had overseen 300 journalists and found that taxing enough. The BBC has a staff of at least 20,000 and many regular contributors besides.

Patten said: "We need to make sure the next Director General has a team around him to make the job do-able."

Asked how long it would take to appoint a new DG, Patten said: "I think it has got to be a few weeks rather than a lot of months".

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