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Split leadership at BBC to enable a hands-on editor, says Bishop James

16 November 2012

PA

THE BBC should consider separating the responsibilities of the Director-General and the editor-in-chief, the Bishop of Norwich, Rt Revd Graham James, has suggested, in the wake of George Entwistle's resignation last Saturday.

Mr Entwistle, who was Director-General for less than two months, announced his resignation on Saturday evening. He said that, since "the Director-General is also the editor-in-chief and ultimately responsible for all content", he would step down because of "the unacceptable journalistic standards" of a report broadcast by Newsnight on 2 November. The report wrongly implicated a former Conservative politician, Lord McAlpine, in the abuse of a boy at a care home in Wales, in the 1980s.

Speaking on Wednesday, Bishop James, who is the Church's lead spokesman on media issues, said: "What I suspect might be needed is a separation between the role of the Director-General in terms of running the organisation, and the editor-in-chief. There may well need to be somebody designated and more hands-on as an editor-in-chief of the BBC. It is understandable that the Director-General, with all the other responsibilities he holds, isn't as hands-on an editor-in-chief as he ought to be."

Bishop James said that it was "admirable" that Mr Entwistle had resigned, but that it had become clear during an interview on BBC Radio 4's Today programme last Saturday that he "wasn't completely on top of the case". Bishop James described Mr Entwistle's £450,000 pay settlement, however, as "mind-boggling. . . It seems an extraordinary amount to be given when you resign."

Bishop James said that national newspapers that were criticising Newsnight for its "rashness" in putting out the report on 2 November had accused the same programme of being "over-cautious" about not running a story accusing Jimmy Savile of committing child abuse. Bishop James suspected that "the earlier criticisms did a good deal to feed the rashness".

The "top echelons" of the BBC had "lost some self-confidence", he said, and that "the BBC's present governance has been shown to lack coherence."

Mr Entwistle's grilling on the Today programme last Saturday showed that there was "no other organisation, with the possible exception of the Church of England, as capable of self-criticism as the BBC", Bishop James said. The "moral indignation" of national newspapers - none of which have subjected their executives to such scrutiny - left him "a bit cold".

A service was scheduled to take place yesterday evening at All Souls', Langham Place, which is next to Broadcasting House, led by Andrew Graystone, the director of the Church and Media Network and presenter of BBC Radio 4's Daily Service.

The Church and Media Network published a prayer for the BBC last weekend. It asked for "integrity, insight and judgement" for BBC employees, and for "the highest professional standards. . . May they resist the temptation to follow the consensus, jump to easy conclusions, pander to prejudice or cut corners."

Mr Graystone said: "It's important that those of us who care about the media should hold the BBC to the highest standards. It's also important that we defend the BBC when it is vulnerable."

Paul Vallely

 

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