LONDON – BBC Trust chairman Chris Patten said Sunday that he is targeting to have a new director general for the British public broadcaster in place “within weeks, rather than months.”
Patten, appearing on the broadcaster’s influential Andrew Marr Show Sunday morning to answer questions about Saturday’s late night resignation of director general George Entwistle, said a speedy replacement was essential for the broadcaster.
He also pointed out that other British media organizations, including Rupert Murdoch‘s newspaper publishing arm News International and its publications The Sun and The Sunday Times, could benefit from a weakened BBC.
“[The BBC’s editorial strength] is bound to be under question from Rupert Murdoch’s papers, let’s be clear about that,” Patten said. “It’s my job to make sure we learn from this and restore confidence and trust in the BBC as quickly as possible.”
Patten said he would “be talking to [Tim] Davie today” about his appointment as acting director general, adding hat the Trust would “be meeting later today” to start the process of finding a permanent replacement.
The BBC Trust chairman also did not rule out someone from outside the organization taking up the role. “We must have the self-confidence [as an organization] to be prepared to investigate and explore while always taking steps to make sure it is true,” Patten said.
The former Conservative government minister and last British governor of Hong Kong also said the BBC could consider a future where it has a separate head of news or editor-in-chief, with the BBC director general role focusing on business issues. The director general currently also serves as the editor-in-chief of the company.
Patten said the BBC Trust, the broadcaster’s regulatory body, will be working night and day to help “restore trust in the BBC” in the wake of Entwistle’s resignation amid the widening editorial decision-making scandals and the fallout from abuse allegations against former BBC host Jimmy Savile.
Patten told Marr that Entwistle’s tenure as director general, a post he held for just 54 days, had been “destroyed by two Newsnight programs,” the late night flagship news show Patten noted Entwistle has himself been “a hugely successful editor of” in the past.
Entwistle late Saturday night announced his resignation standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Patten. The departing director general had spent much of it making apologies across various BBC shows after Newsnight aired a report wrongly implicating a British politician in alleged child abuse.
Patten said Sunday that he stood by the BBC Trust’s “unanimous” decision to appoint Entwistle to the top role, but that his appointee was simply “overwhelmed” by the Savile and subsequent reporting scandals.
The future of Newsnight is currently under scrutiny as it finds itself as one of the main reasons for Entwistle’s departure.
First a Newsnight investigation into Savile was canned last December, the reasons for which Entwistle subsequently failed to explain to observers’ satisfaction when questioned by a committee of the British parliament. Then the program aired the child abuse report that it later had to retract.
Asked if Newsnight was “toast,” Patten said “it is a rather quick judgment” to cancel the show in light of the scandal,” noting “what we want to make sure is that Newsnight and other [BBC news] programs are properly managed.” He also said It would be “very sad if we [the BBC and the public] were to give up that evening slot, which has done some terrific investigative journalism” permanently.
Patten said there is no question that the BBC management structure and reporting lines face a “thorough structural overhaul” and also said that one of the saddest aspects of Entwistle’s departure was that he had been appointed to better position the broadcaster for the digital age.