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BBC director resigns under fire, chairman says overhaul still needed

George Entwistle resigned as director general of the BBC this weekend to take responsibility for a mistaken child sex allegation on the flagship news program Newsnight. 

By Michael Holden and Kate HoltonReuters / November 11, 2012

The BBC Director General, George Entwistle, announces his resignation from the BBC outside New Broadcasting House in central London, after recent news program problems, Saturday. The BBC's director general had said earlier Saturday that it should not have aired a report that wrongly implicated a politician in a child sex-abuse scandal, admitting that the program further damaged trust in a broadcaster already reeling from the fallout over its decision not to air similar allegations against one of its star hosts.

Max Nash/AP

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London

Britain's BBC could be doomed unless it makes radical changes, the head of its governing trust said on Sunday, after its director general quit to take the blame for the airing of false child sex abuse allegations against a former politician.

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Chris Patten, chairman of the BBC Trust, said confidence had to be restored if the publicly funded corporation was to withstand pressure from rivals, especially Rupert Murdoch's media empire, which would try to take advantage of the turmoil.

"If you're saying, 'Does the BBC need a thorough structural radical overhaul?', then absolutely it does, and that is what we will have to do," Patten, a one-time senior figure in Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative Party and the last British governor of Hong Kong, told BBC television.

"The basis for the BBC's position in this country is the trust that people have in it," Patten said. "If the BBC loses that, it's over."

George Entwistle resigned as director general on Saturday, just two months into the job, to take responsibility for the child sex allegation on the flagship news program Newsnight.

The witness in the report, who says he suffered sexual abuse at a care home in the late 1970s, said on Friday he had misidentified the politician, Alistair McAlpine. Newsnight admitted it had not shown the witness a picture of Mr. McAlpine, or approached McAlpine for comment before going to air.

Already under pressure after revelations that a long-time star presenter, the late Jimmy Savile, was a paedophile, Entwistle conceded on the BBC morning news that he had not known – or asked – who the alleged abuser was until the name appeared in social media.

The BBC, celebrating its 90th anniversary, is affectionately known in Britain as "Auntie", and respected around much of the world.

But with 22,000 staff working at eight national TV channels, 50 radio stations, and an extensive Internet operation, critics say it is hampered by a complex and overly bureaucratic and hierarchical management structure.

Thompson's legacy

Journalists said this had become worse under Entwistle's predecessor Mark Thompson, who took over in the wake of the last major crisis to hit the corporation and is set to become chief executive of the New York Times Co on Monday.

In that instance, both director general and chairman were forced out after the BBC was castigated by a public inquiry over a report alleging government impropriety in the fevered build up to war in Iraq, leading to major organizational changes.

One of the BBC's most prominent figures, Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman, said since the Iraq report furor, management had become bloated while cash had been cut from program budgets.

"He [Entwistle] has been brought low by cowards and incompetents," Paxman said in a statement, echoing a widely-held view that Entwistle was a good man who had been let down by his senior staff.

Prime Minister Cameron appeared ready to give the BBC the benefit of the doubt, believing that "one of the great institutions of this country" could reform and deal with its failings, according to sources in his office.

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