Editorial: Entwistle flunks his first test

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The Independent Online

Of the many problems that the new BBC Director-General might have expected to confront in his first month in the job, a sex scandal relating to one of the Corporation's most fondly remembered stars was probably not one. He would have been briefed about questions relating to value for the licence fee, low morale from pending job cuts, even the pay and tax arrangements of top staff. But serial sexual misbehaviour with under-age girls, even rape, on the part of Jimmy Savile, was probably nowhere near George Entwistle's radar until ITV started promoting its documentary.

Yet it is by their response to such unforeseen events that leaders are judged and, while it is cruelly early days, Mr Entwistle has not covered himself with glory. It was only yesterday, almost two weeks after the first revelations broke, that he said anything substantial on the record. The BBC's first effort was to advise women to contact the police; then the Newsnight editor offered a not-entirely-convincing blog about why he called off an investigation into Savile.

The star's stature, though, his long association with the BBC and the fact that crimes were allegedly committed on BBC premises, dictated that the Director-General, however new to his responsibilities, should lead the response. It was only yesterday, after a new crop of accusations, that Mr Entwistle spoke. Tonally, there was nothing to complain about; he offered an abject apology on behalf of the Corporation.

In terms of action, though, his response was inadequate. He said the BBC would address what he called all outstanding questions, but only after the police had finished their inquiries – which could be a very long time. And while it is clear that Savile was not alone among TV stars in the way he treated some young women and that the BBC was not the only place where a blind eye was turned to unacceptable behaviour, it has a particular duty, as a public service, to set the standard for uncovering the truth and preventing any recurrence. Mr Entwistle has more to do if he is to command credibility.