BBC head of news Helen Boaden steps aside pending Jimmy Savile review outcome

BBC director of News Helen Boaden is to step aside until the Pollard review of the Jimmy Savile affair has concluded.

Her deputy Stephen Mitchell is being sidelined for the duration of the review, with Today Prgoramme editor Ceri Thomas filling this role in the interim.

This was one of four moves announced today following an investigation by director of BBC Scotland Ken McQuarrie into the Newsnight broadcast of 2 November which wrongly said that senior Tory from the Thatcher era was involved in child abuse.

The four measures are as follows:

  1. To address the lack of clarity around the editorial chain of command, a decision has been taken to re-establish a single management to deal with all output, Savile related or otherwise.
  2. [Head of news] Helen Boaden has decided that she is not in a position to undertake this responsibility until the Pollard review has concluded. During this period [head of newsgathering] Fran Unsworth will act as director of news. In line with this decision, [Today Programme editor] Ceri Thomas will act on a temporary basis as deputy director in place of Stephen Mitchell.
  3. To address the pressure on the Newsnight team Karen O’Connor has agreed to take on the role of Acting Editor of Newsnight.
  4. Consideration is now being given to the extent to which individuals should be asked to account further for their actions and if appropriate, disciplinary action will be taken.

In an addditional statement, the BBC said: "The BBC wants to make it absolutely clear that neither Helen Boaden nor Stephen Mitchell had anything at all to do with the failed Newsnight investigation into Lord McAlpine.

"Whilst recognising this, the BBC also believes there is a lack of clarity in the lines of command and control in BBC News as a result of some of those caught up in the Pollard Review being unable to exercise their normal authority.

"In the circumstances Helen and Stephen will be stepping aside from their normal roles until the Pollard Review reports and they expect to then return to their positions. There will be a public statement later today dealing with the finding of Ken MacQuarrie's investigation."

BBC director general George Entwistle resigned on Saturday night.

Accepting his resignation BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten said: "At the heart of the BBC is its role as a trusted global news organisation and as the editor-in-chief of that organisation George as very honourably offered us his resgnation because of the unacceptable mistakes and the unacceptable shoddy journalism that has caused so much controversy."

It has now emerged that the decision to broadcast the 2 November Newsnight report rested with BBC director of Northern Ireland Peter Johnston, a former marketing professional for Shell who is said to have little journalistic experience. 

BBC head of news Helen Boaden and Entwistle had both removed themselves from decision-making over Jimmy Savile-related stories pending the outcome of inquiries over the Newsnight's failure to broadcast evidence of the late-DJ's history of sexual abuse last December. Newsnight editor Peter Rippon "stepped aside" from involvement in the programme on 22 October.

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