Departure of BBC's George Entwistle should help 'lance the boil'

The departure of BBC director general George Entwistle should help 'lance the boil' of reputational damage, but the broadcaster's structures still need to be overhauled, PROs have said.

George Entwistle: Resigned over the weekend
George Entwistle: Resigned over the weekend

Entwistle’s departure over the weekend came after a barrage of bad publicity following a Newsnight report which led to former Tory treasurer Lord McAlpine, being wrongly accused of child abuse in north Wales in the 1980s.

His resignation has now been followed by news this morning that the BBC's director of news Helen Boaden and her deputy Steve Mitchell have ‘stepped aside’ from their roles.

Mary Whenman, who heads up Grayling’s corporate practice, said that the director general’s departure would be seen  by the public as ‘action being taken.’

‘They’ve lanced the boil reputationally, and now they need to have a period of reflection while making the right kinds of changes,’ she said.

Last week, the BBC’s flagship programme Newsnight broadcasted a piece linking allegations of sexual abuse to a senior Tory. Though he was not named in the programme, he was later falsely identified as Lord McAlpine- who PRWeek understands is now being represented by Bell Pottinger- through social media.

Entwistle’s exit followed on from an interview on the Radio 4 Today programme  in which he appeared unaware of a number of key issues around the programme, including a piece in The Guardian stating the allegations may be incorrect.

‘It didn’t appear Entiwstle had a grip on what was happening. He had to do the honourable thing and accept the collective responsibility whether it was ultimately his fault or not. It’s not the end of the BBC, it’s a corporate event in their history and now they need to move on,’ said Whenman.

Replacing Entwistle in the top job is former PepsiCo executive Tim Davie, who is to set out his plans for rebuilding trust in the corporation after a first meeting in his new role with the BBC Trust yesterday.

And like Whenman, MHP’s director for media Ian Kirby anticipated further departures and said Davie needed to restore trust through actions, not just words.

Among these was the need to look at lines of responsibility within news reporting, Kirby said.

‘There was no question Entwistle should have gone, and the comms handling from the Savile issue onwards has been appalling. Now they need to look at their structures and make sure they have a simple chain of command when it comes to reporting stories- something that seems to have been forgotten about.’

Of Davie’s future and whether a new director general should be drafted in, he added: 

‘It may be time to bring in someone from the outside who has a strong journalistic background. What is most important is to have someone untainted by what’s happened up until now.’

The BBC has yet to respond to a request for comment.

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