BBC Embroiled In Controversy As Leaders Step Down

On Saturday, the BBC's Director General, George Entwistle, resigned. On Monday, Helen Boaden, director of BBC News, and her deputy Stephen Mitchell, took leaves of absence after what appear to be major breaches of journalistic ethics. The first occurred a few weeks ago when the organization spiked an investigative report about alleged child sex abuse by a former BBC star, Jimmy Savile. The second happened last week when the BBC falsely accused a former senior politician, still living, of child abuse.

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AUDIE CORNISH: And I'm Audie Cornish.

In Britain, a crisis at the publicly funded BBC is approaching full boil. Its Director General George Entwistle stepped down this weekend over not one but two bungled reports on child abuse.

Vicki Barker reports that, today, more heads rolled at the broadcaster. And another controversy emerged, this one over Entwistle's severance package.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: The BBC "Newsnight" team failed to complete the basic journalistic checks, according...

VICKI BARKER, BYLINE: The BBC reporting on itself. Wall-to-wall coverage on one of the worst crises in its history. Today, two days after its newly appointed director general resigned, its top two news executives stepped aside or were pushed.

GEORGE CAREY: Each day brings a new twist to the story. It's almost incredible to think how many mistakes have been made in such a short time.

BARKER: George Carey was the founding editor of "Newsnight," the BBC news program at the heart of the crisis. An independent inquiry is still looking into how "Newsnight" came to kill a report last year that would've exposed the late BBC star Jimmy Savile as a serial pedophile. Then, this month, the show aired a piece mistakenly linking a senior politician to child molestation. Today, an investigation into that debacle concluded that basic journalistic checks weren't completed, in part because "Newsnight's" editorial processes had been weakened by the Savile crisis.

Today's other revelation that departing boss Entwistle is getting a year's severance pay - more than $700,000 - sparked widespread indignation. Philip Davies is a Conservative Party lawmaker.

PHILIP DAVIES: This is the ultimate reward for failure, to give somebody a year's salary who had to resign after just 54 days.

BARKER: But in Parliament today, Harriet Harman, deputy leader of the opposition Labour Party, warned her fellow politicians to turn down the volume and the pressure.

HARRIET HARMAN: The BBC has made grave mistakes and it must sort them out. But everyone, including us politicians, must keep cool heads and let that happen so the BBC can restore trust.

BARKER: Watching all of this from the sidelines, Entwistle's predecessor, Mark Thompson who began his new job as chief executive of The New York Times today. Thompson told the BBC he has faith in the corporation he led for eight years.

MARK THOMPSON: It's full of people with real integrity and talent. I have no doubt it's going to get back on its feet really soon.

BARKER: Thompson continues to insist he wasn't made aware of plans to air and then abort that Savile expose. George Entwistle's problems aren't over yet. Although lawmakers have no say in his pay, Britain's national audit office has announced it will study his severance package to see if British taxpayers were getting value for money.

For NPR News, I'm Vicki Barker in London.

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