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i Editor's Letter: BBC again on the front page

 

How sad to again have a BBC crisis on i's front page. Not because the story isn't worth it, nor that it's bad for sales − far from it. No, I believe the BBC is a force for good, an institution that helps make Britain unique. The continuing run of negative publicity gives so much ammunition to its enemies.

That said, we would be wrong not to lead with the story. This saga may have repercussions for television and other media, for news's place in society, the future of investigative journalism, social media and many famous journalist names − in addition to the lesser-known lights at Newsnight and the BBC who may yet follow their hapless Director-General out of the door.

As for George Entwistle, there is nothing to suggest other than that he is the decent, honourable man that Jeremy Paxman and others have said he is. But, that's not to say he should have remained. If he could be forgiven a little for his "rabbit caught in the headlights" behaviour when the Savile scandal broke − so soon after taking over − there are no excuses for the events of last week.

The buck stopped with him, if not in signing off on the original programme, then in catching up with its impact and ramifications and being able at the very least to understand how it came to pass. Yes, many questions remain about who had the rush of blood to the head and when, but in the light of the Savile debacle it is inconceivable that the chain of command was not aware of what was going on.

And there's the rub. In an age of multiple 24-hour television and radio outlets both for news and otherwise, plus the ever-voracious internet, how can the director-general be both CEO and editor-in-chief? The BBC has too vast an output for the same person to be responsible for both what goes out on a Tuesday Newsnight and the defence of the licence fee. If this requires a re-write of the charter, then so be it. That charter was written for a different, gentler age.

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