British politicians are up in arms over a £450,000 [$700,000] payout to the BBC’s former director general, George Entwistle, who stepped down on Saturday after only 54 days on the job in the wake of two sex-abuse scandals at the embattled broadcasting company.
Entwistle resigned following a Nov. 2 episode of “Newsnight,” which mistakenly accused a former Conservative politician, Lord McAlpine, of sexually abusing children. The program stopped short of mentioning the politician by name, but the implications in the report led to widespread speculation that McAlpine was the intended subject. “Newsnight” was forced to make a formal apology, and the BBC announced on Friday that its investigative reports would be suspended.
Entwistle had already been under intense criticism for his handling of the child sex-abuse scandal surrounding Jimmy Savile, the BBC presenter who was posthumously accused of sexually abusing underage girls over the course of four decades. Entwistle has not yet been able to explain why a 2011 episode of “Newsnight” that implicated Savile was shelved shortly before it was scheduled to air. Accusations against Savile came out in October after ITV, the BBC’s rival network, aired a similar exposé.
Entwistle’s predecessor, Mark Thompson, has also been questioned about the shelved “Newsnight” episode, but he has claimed to be unaware of any wrongdoing. Thompson began his new position on Monday as the CEO of the New York Times Company (NYSE: NYT), where his association with the BBC has led some staffers to question his leadership.
Entwistle’s payout amounts to one year’s salary. Under his contract, he is only entitled to six months’ pay, but the BBC doubled it in light of his ongoing participation with the inquiry surrounding the Savile scandal. According to several reports in the British press, Entwistle will also receive £877,000 in pension benefits.
Politicians on both sides of the British parliament had harsh words for the payout. Harriet Harman, the Labor Party’s Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, said Entwistle should not accept the full payment. “It is not justifiable for the BBC to pay double the contractually required sum to the director general on his resignation,” she told the BBC. “It looks like a reward for failure.”
Philip Davies, a Conservative member of parliament, blasted the BBC Trust’s Chairman, Lord Patten, who signed off on the payoff. “The fact that he has approved a £450,000 payoff for him means his position has become farcical,” he told the Daily Telegraph. “This payoff is totally unjustifiable, it’s unacceptable, it’s extraordinary and I suspect it’s been done to save Lord Patten’s bacon.”
Meanwhile, some of the snarkier cesspools of the British press are having a field day with the news of Entwistle’s departure. The daily tabloid the Sun ran a front-page story with the headline “Bye, Bye Chump” (note the initials, BBC).
Tim Davie, who was appointed acting director general of the BBC, said in an interview with the broadcaster that his first order of business is to “get a grip” and regain the public’s trust.
Entwistle’s abrupt resignation makes him the shortest-serving director general in the history of the BBC.