Editorial: Not a convincing Director-General

 

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George Entwistle faced no small challenge in yesterday's appearance before MPs to answer questions about the BBC's handling of the Jimmy Savile scandal.

Given the flurry of highly damaging questions raised by both the revelations of decades of sexual abuse and the quashing of a Newsnight investigation into the presenter shortly after his death last year, it was hoped that the new Director-General would use his time before the Culture Committee to provide some comprehensive answers at last.

He did not. Instead, Mr Entwistle appeared ill-informed and under-prepared, and was justifiably criticised by MPs for his "lamentable lack of knowledge" as he struggled to answer questions about either the current number of sexual harassment complaints in his organisation or the number of people implicated in the inquiries set off by the Savile exposé. Hardly the sign of a firm hand at the helm.

Nor was he much stronger on the question of why the Newsnight story on Savile was never run but Christmas tributes to the presenter were. Mr Entwistle stressed repeatedly that there was no cover-up. He even put the boot into editor Peter Rippon, questioning his judgement on the matter and expressing disappointment that his explanatory blog was shown to be "inaccurate and incomplete". What the Director-General did not do was clarify why it took three weeks for the Corporation to check the details of the account upon which it was relying in its own statements. Nor did he convincingly explain his own failure to ask more questions when first told of a Newsnight story that might scupper the tributes.

In fairness, Mr Entwistle only took over the top job last month. But his timid show yesterday only adds to the growing sense of a man out of his depth. So lacklustre a performance would be disquieting in a BBC Director-General at any time; with the Corporation in crisis, and public trust undermined by the unfolding scandal, it is more injurious still.

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