Dual management structure and Savile confusion blamed for Newsnight failings

 

  • Confusion over dual editorial command structure blamed for Newsnight child-abuse report error
  • Basic journalistic checks were not completed
  • Newsnight management structure was seriously weakened
  • Karen O'Connor made acting editor of Newsnight

Confusion over whether or not Newsnight's disastrous 2 November report was a 'Savile' story has been cited as one reason why an unnamed senior Conservative politician was wrongly accused of child abuse.

Head of news Helen Boaden and director general George Entwistle had both removed themselves from making decisions about Savile-related matters pending the outcome of internal reviews into the affair.

BBC Scotland director Ken MacQuarrie last night set out his findings after an investigation into the editorial failings around the 2 November programme.

A summary of his findings was released last night and the full report, subject to legal redactions, will be published after the conclusion of disciplinary actions.

In addition to the decision already announced yesterday to establish a single senior editorial chain of command at the BBC, to deal with all output (Savile or otherwise), BBC head of London factual Karen O'Connor has been made acting editor of Newsnight.

The 2 November Newsnight report claimed to reveal that two victims of child abuse in children's homes in Wales in the 1970s and 1980s had alleged that a leading Conservative politician from the Thatcher era was among their abusers. The politician was not named.

The report was a result of a collaboration with The Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

On Friday, 9 November, following press reports that a politician named online as the abuser may have been a victim of mistaken identity – Lord McAlpine issued a statement denying his involvement and signalling that he would take legal action.

Later that day the first victim issued a statement saying that the individual concerned was not Lord McAlpine.

MacQuarrie noted in his report that a separate editorial chain of command had been established at the BBC for Savile-related stories.

He noted that the Newsnight management structure had been “seriously weakened” since editor Peter Rippon stepped aside last month as a result of questions over his decision to shelve a report last December revealing that the late DJ Jimmy Savile was a child abuser.

On the 2 November report, MacQuarrie said: “It was not clear whether this story was regarded as Savile-related or not, or when that decision was made and communicated: a clear decision on this does not appear to have been taken until lunchtime on Friday 2 November. As a consequence there was ambiguity around who was taking the ultimate editorial responsibility for the Newsnight report, particularly in the days leading up to the day of transmission.”

He said that in the run-up to the report “some of the basic journalistic checks were not completed”.

He said: “Specifically, identification was not confirmed by photograph with the first victim. The second victim could not be traced in order to provide up to date corroboration. Legal advice was sought. No right of reply was offered to the unnamed individual at the centre of the allegation.”

BBC director general George Entwistle resigned on Saturday after revealing in a Today Programme interview that he knew nothing about the 2 November Newsnight report until the following day.

A BBC Trust spokesperson said last night: “It is clear from the MacQuarrie report on the November 2 Newsnight that there were serious failures in the normal checks and balances that the Trust expects from BBC journalism, and these were compounded by the confusion created by the dual reporting structure in News established during the Pollard inquiry. This is very concerning.

“The measures that Tim Davie has put in place are sensible and appropriate while the inquiry carries out its work, and we note that consideration is being given to further action in respect of the November 2 Newsnight.

“We expect to receive regular updates on this issue from the acting Director-General as he works with the utmost urgency to restore public confidence in the BBC and the integrity of its journalism.”

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