Director of news pleads with staff to stop leaks

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The Independent Online

The latest head of the BBC News operation has begun her new regime by attempting to stop the flow of information.

Fran Unsworth, the acting director of news, on her first day pleaded with colleagues not to contribute to the wave of bad news which is threatening to engulf the organisation in the wake of the Jimmy Savile and Lord McAlpine scandals.

As it emerged that the BBC has this week been facing more than 100 different news stories a day highlighting its current difficulties, Ms Unsworth attempted to prevent further leaks by emailing her staff and asking them not to tweet or speak to other news organisations.

"We now need to restore some equilibrium to the organisation," she said. "It would be helpful if some of our problems were not played out publicly across social media and in the pages of the national press."

But members of the world's biggest news organisation promptly revealed the development.

As concerns grew over the fallout from Newsnight's misreporting, which led to Lord McAlpine being falsely linked to a paedophile ring, its key witness Steve Messham told BBC Wales that he hoped the affair would not deter other child-abuse victims from coming forward. "People have got to realise it's a genuine error on my part," he said.

Angus Stickler, the former BBC radio journalist working for the Bureau of Investigative Journalism who delivered the story to Newsnight, gave evidence to the bureau's trust yesterday on his role in the bungled report.

Ms Unsworth, pictured, reiterated concerns over the "lack of clarity" in the editorial command. BBC journalists were surprised the Radio 5 Live controller Adrian van Klaveren and director of BBC Northern Ireland Peter Johnston had returned to their usual roles in the news structure, despite having signed off the McAlpine piece. The director of news, Helen Boaden, and her deputy Stephen Mitchell have been made to "stand aside" from their posts despite having had no part in the story. There is incredulity at the outgoing Director-General George Entwistle's claim not to have been aware of the risks with the film.

BBC staff will gather to pray for the corporation at a special church service at All Souls Church in Langham Place, the historic landmark adjacent to New Broadcasting House, tomorrow night.