London: The BBC’s Director-General George Entwistle resigned on Saturday after the broadcaster’s flagship news programme wrongly implicated a British politician in child sex abuse.
“I have decided that the honourable thing to do is to step down,” Entwistle said in a televised statement outside the BBC’s London headquarters.
Entwistle, who only took over as director-general in September, said he decided to resign “in the light of the fact that the director-general is also the editor-in-chief and ultimately responsible for all content”.
“The wholly exceptional events of the past few weeks have led me to conclude that the BBC should appoint a new leader,” he added.
“To have been the director-general of the BBC even for a short period, and in the most challenging of circumstances, has been a great honour.”
Earlier on Saturday, Entwistle had said it had been “fundamentally wrong” of the BBC’s current affairs programme Newsnight to broadcast an interview with a man claiming he was repeatedly abused by a senior Conservative Party figure at a children’s home in the 1980s.
The programme did not identify the politician, but he was widely named on the Internet as former Tory party treasurer Alistair McAlpine.
McAlpine went public on Friday to strongly deny the allegations, and hours later his accuser Steve Messham retracted his claims, saying he had only just seen a picture of McAlpine and he was not the man who abused him.
Entwistle’s resignation comes just weeks after a storm of allegations that the late BBC presenter Jimmy Savile, one of the corporation’s biggest names, sexually abused hundreds of children over four decades.
Both Entwistle and Newsnight were already under scrutiny after the show dropped an investigation into the Savile abuse claims last year.
Entwistle — who edited Newsnight himself a decade ago — had admitted before his resignation that the corporation faced a “crisis of trust” over the Newsnight broadcast and the Savile scandal.
Chris Patten, the chairman of the BBC’s governing body, the BBC Trust, said it was “one of the saddest evenings of my public life”.
Standing alongside Entwistle as he made his resignation statement, the former Hong Kong governor said: “At the heart of the BBC is its role as a trusted global news organisation.
“As the editor in chief of that news organisation George has very honourably offered us his resignation because of the unacceptable mistakes — the unacceptable shoddy journalism — which has caused us so much controversy.
“He has behaved as editor with huge honour and courage and would that the rest of the world always behaved the same.”
Lawyers for McAlpine meanwhile have said they would be pursuing legal action against “all media who have defamed Lord McAlpine’s reputation and published defamatory statements”.
The politician, who blasted the claims as “wholly false and seriously defamatory”, said he was forced to publicly deny them after he was named directly on the Internet and “by innuendo” in the print and broadcast media.
He said he had never been to any children’s home, let alone the Bryn Estyn facility in Wrexham, north Wales, where Messham lived as a teenager.