Departure of Entwistle should help BBC fix damage

The departure of BBC Director General George Entwistle should help the media organization with its reputational damage, but the broadcaster's structures still need to be overhauled, according to UK PR leaders.

The departure of BBC Director General George Entwistle should help the media organization with its reputational damage, but the broadcaster's structures still need to be overhauled, according to UK PR leaders.

Entwistle's departure over the weekend came after a barrage of bad publicity following a Newsnight report that led to former Conservative Party Treasurer Robert McAlpine being wrongly accused of child abuse in north Wales in the 19802.

Entwistle's resignation was 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 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, BBC flagship program Newsnight broadcasted a piece linking allegations of sexual abuse to a senior Conservative Party official. Though he was not named in the program, the official was later falsely identified as McAlpine - who PRWeek understands is now being represented by Bell Pottinger - through social media. 

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

“It didn't appear Entwistle had a grip on what was happening. He had to do the honorable 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 expected to describe his plans for rebuilding trust in the corporation after a first meeting in his new role with the BBC Trust on Sunday.

Like Whenman, Ian Kirby, agency MHP's director for media, anticipated further departures and said Davie needs to restore trust through actions, not just words.

Among these is 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,” he said. “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 named, Kirby 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.

This article originally appeared on PRWeek UK, PRWeek's sister publication under Haymarket Media.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in

Would you like to post a comment?

Please Sign in or register.