The BBC's New Broadcasting House in London. Picture: REUTERS
BBC's Broadcasting House in London. Picture: REUTERS

THE BBC needed a "thorough, structural, radical overhaul" after its director-general George Entwistle resigned over a series of journalistic scandals, Lord Patten, chairman of the BBC trust, said on Sunday.

He spoke ahead of a report expected to be published into how Newsnight, the BBC’s flagship late night TV news programme, mistakenly reported that a senior Conservative Party figure had abused boys in a Welsh children’s home in the 1970s and 1980s.

The report, by Ken MacQuarrie, director of BBC Scotland, could lead to more resignations at the broadcaster, senior BBC insiders said. However, Lord Patten said he would not respond to calls for his resignation.

"I think my job is to make sure that we now learn the lessons from the crisis," he told Sky’s Murnaghan programme. "If I don’t do that and don’t restore huge confidence and trust in the BBC, then I’m sure people will tell me to take my cards and clear off.

"But I will not take my marching orders from Mr (Rupert) Murdoch’s newspapers."

Social media sites identified the perpetrator as Lord McAlpine, a former Conservative treasurer, but last Thursday the main witness retracted his accusation, saying that it was a case of mistaken identity.

Mr Entwistle resigned at the weekend, in response to criticism of Newsnight. On Saturday morning, he told the BBC’s Today programme that he did not know about the investigation before it was transmitted, despite news stories and messages on Twitter speculating about a revelation on the programme 12 hours before.

Mr Entwistle further said he had not seen the broadcast and did not hear about it until the following day. That crisis over the report follows controversy over a decision by the same programme to drop a probe into allegations that BBC presenter Jimmy Savile sexually abused children.

Lord Patten said he would start the search for a new director-general straight away to restore trust in the BBC. He hoped to appoint someone within weeks and said he might look for an external candidate. But he insisted Mr Entwistle, who had only been in the job for eight weeks, had been the correct appointment because he had the right ideas for how to shake up the broadcaster. He described the former director-general as "a very, very good man, cerebral, honourable and brave".

Conservative ministers said Mr Entwistle had been right to resign. Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said the BBC needed to focus relentlessly on rebuilding its reputation.

Home Secretary Theresa May said the BBC had "a job to do to restore public trust".

Harriet Harman, deputy Labour Party leader, said Lord Patten should stay on because the BBC needed a period of stability. She warned that it was dangerous for politicians to try to micromanage the BBC.

"We don’t want the next victim to be the independence of the BBC," Ms Harman said.

Lord Patten said the licence fee that funded the BBC was based on people trusting the organisation. "If the BBC loses that (trust), it is all over. One or two newspapers — the Murdoch papers — would love that, but I don’t think the public wants that. We have to restore that trust."

Responding to speculation that the BBC might scrap Newsnight, Lord Patten said the programme had carried out some "terrific journalism" and it would be "very sad" to lose it.

"We must have the self-confidence to be prepared to investigate, to explore but we must be sure what we say is correct."

Lord Patten said it was "pretty fair comment" when Jonathan Dimbleby, a senior BBC journalist and presenter, blamed cuts — the organisation has shed 7,000 jobs in the past decade — for contributing to shortcomings in its news department.

Financial Times