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BBC's 'Newsnight' Covers Its Own Woes, Broadcaster's Wider Crisis

newsnight logo - H 2012

The flagship news show at the heart of the controversy surrounding the U.K. public broadcaster returned Monday night with a look at its own troubles.

LONDON - "After the apology, after the resignation and now a management purge of sorts, can the BBC work properly?"

That is how Newsnight co-host Emily Maitlis opened Monday night's edition of the BBC's flagship news program on BBC2, which has been at the center of the U.K. public broadcaster's crisis.

It was the show's first edition since Saturday night's dramatic resignation of George Entwistle as director general of the BBC and the appointment of Tim Davie as acting head of the broadcaster.

Entwistle already faced questions about the company's reaction to child sexual abuse allegations against late former BBC host Jimmy Savile and a late 2011 decision by Newsnight to drop an investigation into Savile. He resigned after a wrong report by Newsnight that accused a British politician of child sexual abuse.

On Monday night, Newsnight dedicated about 15 minutes of a total of 45 minutes to the BBC's woes, with a conflict between Japan and China about a group of islands among the other topics.

Basic journalistic checks weren't completed, Maitlis said in summarizing an initial internal probe into what went wrong as she introduced the show's first report. And she highlighted that Entwistle is facing pressure to give up part of his $715,000 exit payment.

The report itself started off by stating that the BBC was in "one of its worst crisis in its history" before asking if its reaction will be enough to restore trust in its program, including Newsnight itself. "At the heart of the BBC's troubles is the report by this program, which accused an innocent man of being a pedophile," the reporter emphasized.

BBC creative director Alan Yentob then appeared in the Newsnight studio to discuss the crisis. "I don't think we can complacent about any of the events of the last few weeks," he said when asked if the BBC was in somewhat better shape as of Monday night. "This has been a tumultuous two weeks," and it led to problems at Newsnight.

He said Davie's focus on streamlining reporting lines and rebuilding trust was key. "Noone is saying it is an easy task. But...the BBC has been in trouble before, and we have lost trust with the audience and had to rebuild it."

The show was the first edition of Newsnight overseen by Karen O'Connor who had on Monday morning been named acting editor of the program. Previously, Newsnight editor Peter Rippon stepped aside amid the BBC crisis and an internal review.

Maitlis closed the show by inviting viewers to return by saying "there's definitely more tomorrow." Observers took that as a sign of confidence that the program will survive after questions about its future over the weekend.

Email: Georg.Szalai@thr.com
Twitter: @georgszalai