LONDON – The BBC’s top executive resigned Saturday night after the prestigious broadcaster’s marquee newsmagazine wrongly implicated a British politician in a child sex-abuse scandal, plunging the network into further uncertainty amid a controversy that exploded after it decided not to air similar allegations against one of its own stars, who police now say was one of the nation’s worst pedophiles.
In a brief statement outside BBC headquarters, Entwistle said he decided to do the honorable thing and step down after just eight weeks in the job.
John Whittingdale, chairman of Britain’s Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee, said Entwistle had no choice but to go, as recent events had left the impression that the BBC’s management has lost their grip of the organization.
Last month, Entwhistle faced his first crisis over the growing scandal revolving around Jimmy Savile, the renowned BBC TV host who died last year and who is alleged to have sexually abused numerous young people.
In addition to the troubling possibility that Savile may have used his position – and BBC premises – to carry out assaults, the scandal further jolted BBC because its Newsnight investigative program decided to shelve its own report into allegations against Savile.
That decision prompted deep soul-searching at the venerated broadcaster and assurances from Entwistle that he would get to the bottom of the decision.
But furor was reignited when the same program aired a report Nov. 2 about alleged sex abuse in Wales in the 1970s and 1980s. During the program, victim Steve Messham claimed he had been abused by a senior Conservative Party figure.
The BBC didn’t name the alleged abuser, but online rumors focused on Alistair McAlpine, a Conservative Party member of the House of Lords. On Friday, he issued a fierce denial and threatened to sue.
Messham then said he had been mistaken about his abuser’s identity and apologized to McAlpine, prompting fury over the BBC’s decision to air the report, the suspension of investigative programs at Newsnight and mounting questions over Entwistle’s leadership.
Enwistle had insisted he was not aware of the program before it was broadcast – saying in hindsight he wished the matter had been referred to him.
But that stand drew incredulity from politicians and media watchers wondering how he could have allowed a second botched handling of a high-profile child sex-abuse story so soon after the broadcaster was pitched into crisis over allegations against Savile.