Former BBC Director General's Pay Off Attracts Fierce Criticism from U.K. Parliament
LONDON – The $715,000 pay-off for George Entwistle who resigned as director general of the BBC after just 54 days in the job was hailed as a "cavalier" use of public money, according to members of Parliament here.
Entwistle dramatically exited the public broadcaster after weeks of negative headlines for the BBC amid the sexual abuse scandal surrounding late former BBC host Jimmy Savile and the revelation that Newsnight late last year had dropped a planned report about the allegations against him.
The lump sum paid to Entwistle, which also included a year's health insurance and money to hire PR advice, was out of line with public expectation, according to the influential parliamentary body, the Commons Public Accounts Committee.
The criticism from MPs comes a day after the publication of the findings of two internal probes at BBC into its handling of the emerging Savile story and subsequent fallout from it.
The BBC Trust published Wednesday (Dec. 19) the 185-page report of an independent review carried out by former head of Sky News Nick Pollard into the handling of and fall out from the decision to ax a Newsnight investigation into child sexual abuse by the late presenter.
The report pulled no punches when it came to criticizing the public broadcaster describing it as "completely incapable" of dealing with the Savile affair.
Adherence to "rigid management chains" meant the BBC floundered amid "chaos and confusion" and "a lack of leadership from senior executives," the report said. Entwistle was one of the key management team members in the run up to the Savile revelations.
In its report Thursday, the Public Accounts Committee described Entwistle's pay out as out of line with severance packages in the public sector, and was an "unacceptable use" of public money.
Committee chairwoman Margaret Hodge said: "Public servants should not be rewarded for failure. But that was exactly what happened when the BBC Trust paid off the former director general, George Entwistle."
Hodge also noted that in order to speed up his exit, the BBC opted to pay "twice what he was contractually entitled to, and then, if that were not bad enough, 12 months' private medical cover and a contribution to the cost of his legal fees and public relations advice
Speaking on influential BBC news program Radio 4's Today, Hodge said Entwistle's exit package left the committee members "astounded."
The committee also said it was "extremely concerned" that the BBC Trust rejected an offer for the National Audit Office (NAO) to examine the payments made to Entwistle.
BBC Trust chairman Chris Patten described the criticisms made by MPs as being "unfair."
"I think the treatment we have had from them has been a bit shabby," he said, speaking on the Today program, noting that the committee had been sent a detailed account of the legal advice used to reach a decision regarding the former director general.
"I don't think they have been fair because they don't look at our legal arguments at all."
A BBC Trust spokeswoman told the BBC website that the terms reached for Entwistle, while being "a very substantial sum" were "the best available in the circumstances."
The spokeswoman reiterated the argument previously presented by Patten that should they have opted to contest the pay out, the BBC could have faced an expensive legal battle over constructive dismissal.
The findings of a separate report into a Newsnight program that led to Lord McAlpine, a former Conservative Party treasurer, being wrongly implicated in a child sex abuse scandal also was published Wednesday.
The report found Newsnight failed to complete "basic journalistic checks" and there was confusion about who had the ultimate responsibility for "final editorial sign-off."
Both the editor and deputy editor of the current affairs program are to be replaced, it was announced after the report's release.
The separate Pollard Review, which cost $3.6 million, involved the examination of 10,000 emails and detailed interviews with 19 individuals.
In an interview with Newsnight late Wednesday evening in the U.K, the flagship news program at the heart of the action, BBC acting director general Tim Davie defended the cost of the, saying: "It was right to spend that money because we had an allegation that was very fundamental to trust in the BBC."
And he came out fighting about why no-one has been fired as a result of the findings from the two reports, despite unforgiving criticism of the BBC.
When asked how he expected to rebuild trust in the BBC in the wake of Entwistle's exit and the ongoing fallout from the Savile scandal.
Davie told Newsnight host Jeremy Paxman that "success for me is not necessarily how many people I dismiss, it's about making a fair and proper decision on the facts in front of me."
He said: "The idea that you have to sack someone to lead the cultural change is just flawed."
Another review led by Dame Janet Smith, looking at the culture and practices of the BBC during the years in which Savile worked there, is expected next year.