12 Nov 2012

Newsnight: ‘Basic journalistic checks not completed’

A BBC television investigation into sexual abuse at a children’s home failed to carry out basic checks before broadcast, according to an internal report.

The report, carried out by BBC Scotland Director Ken MacQuarrie, found that the Newsnight investigation on 2 November made a number of mistakes.

It says: “During the editorial decision-making process, some of the basic journalistic checks were not completed. 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.

“There was a different understanding by the key parties about where the responsibility lay for the final editorial sign off for the story on the day.”

The BBC said the failings identified were “unacceptable” and disciplinary action would now be taken. The corporation commissioned the report after it became apparent that there were inaccuracies in the programme that led to former Tory treasurer Lord McAlpine being named later on the internet. He was not named in the Newsnight report.

Mr MacQuarrie’s report says that at the time of the broadcast, “the Newsnight editorial management structure had been seriously weakened since the editor stood aside and one of the deputy editors left the organisation”.

Newsnight editor Peter Rippon decided to step aside after a furore over a Newsnight report into Jimmy Savile that was shelved.

The MacQuarrie report adds that “the editorial leadership of the team was under very considerable pressure” at the time and “there was ambiguity around who was taking the ultimate editorial responsibility for the Newsnight report”.


Earlier today, the BBC’s acting Director-General Tim Davie said his predecessor’s £450,000 pay-off was a matter for the BBC Trust and that his job was now to “get a grip” of the situation.

Tim Davie said he had introduced a “clear line of command” into the BBC news structure and he would take time to read the recommendations of a report before taking any disciplinary action.

When asked about former director-general George Entwistle’s £450,00 pay-off, he said that was a matter for the BBC Trust.

“As the director-general I’m clear what I’m in charge of… what I’ll focus on is gripping and taking action on the things that I can control.

“I’m not going to pass judgement on a personal matter with the outgoing director-general and the chairman.”

Mr Entwistle is to receive a full 12 months’ salary, despite serving just 54 days in the job. Under the standard executive board contract, he would normally be entitled to just six months’ pay.

I consulted my colleagues on the trust’s remuneration committee and took legal advice. Our conclusion was that a settlement on these terms was justified and necessary. Lord Patten

The prime minister’s spokesman said George Entwistle’s package was “hard to justify”, but that it was a matter for the BBC Trust to decide.

The PM’s view has been echoed by Culture Secretary Maria Miller who, in the Commons, called for “stability” at the BBC.

She told MPs: “The trust needs to act swiftly to ensure the management and leadership issues are resolved, and that these failings cannot be repeated.

“It’s clear from the interim director-general’s interviews today that the BBC is looking seriously at what went wrong, where responsibility lies and how to address this in the long term.”

‘Justified and necessary’

BBC Trust Chariman Lord Patten has written to John Whittingdale, chairman of the commons culture, media and sport committee, to say that the 12-month payment had been agreed “to conclude matters quickly”.

He said he had sought legal advice about a year’s remuneration, and had decided it was “justified and necessary”.

He wrote: “In agreeing to 12 months’ notice rather than six, we had in mind the following points. In the absence of George’s honourable offer to resign, I would have had to speak to the trustees about the option of termination by us (which, fortunately, was not necessary).

“In these circumstances, George would have been entitled to 12 months’ notice. In circumstances where we needed to conclude matters quickly and required George’s ongoing co-operation in a number of very difficult and sensitive matters, including the inquiries into issues associated with (Jimmy) Savile, I concluded that a consensual resignation on these terms was clearly the better route.

“I consulted my colleagues on the trust’s remuneration committee and took legal advice. Our conclusion was that a settlement on these terms was justified and necessary.

“The alternative was long drawn-out discussions and continuing uncertainty at a time when the BBC needs all of its focus to be on resolving fundamental issues of trust in BBC journalism.”