Crowngate claims BBC, RDF execs

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BBC1 controller Peter Fincham and RDF Media chief creative officer Stephen Lambert have resigned after the publication of a damning report examining how re-edited documentary footage of the queen was shown to journalists and international buyers.

BBC 2 controller Roly Keating will take over as acting controller of BBC1 until a replacement is found.

The BBC1 documentary, "A Year With the Queen," was produced by RDF Media and scheduled to air next year. The footage was shown to reporters as part of the BBC1 season review July 11.

The report found that a catalog of "misjudgments, poor practice and ineffective systems" had led to the misleading footage being shown and said that the BBC bosses had "naively" underestimated the gravity of the issue and didn't correct the story fast enough.

At issue are sequences of the queen in a shoot with Vanity Fair photographer Annie Liebovitz so that it appeared that the monarch was storming out of the session after an argument.

The report investigating the so-called "Crowngate" affair was carried out by former deputy BBC director general Will Wyatt. It also was critical of BBC director of vision Jana Bennett, who oversees all BBC television and radio content.

The editorial, compliance and management failures highlighted by the report will add to the woes of BBC director general Mark Thompson, who spent the summer defending the corporation after it was found to have breached viewers' trust on a slew of high-profile call-in phone competitions.

"Although I take some comfort from Will Wyatt's conclusion that no one consciously set out to defame or misrepresent the queen in respect of the BBC's preparation for the BBC1 launch, the fact is that serious mistakes were made which put misleading information about the queen into the public domain," Thompson said.

RDF Media's Lambert has since admitted that he was responsible for the questionable editing. But RDF did not reveal the full extent of its responsibility until almost 24 hours after the trailer was released, though it became obvious within hours of the program launch that there was a problem, by which time the queen's "spat" with Liebovitz was global news.

The report found that Fincham and other executives had known that footage released to the media by the corporation was inaccurate by 5 p.m. July 11, the date of the BBC1 season launch. But they waited until the next day to issue a formal correction and apology, even through by that time the footage was running on news networks and Web sites worldwide.

"Those handling the issue were slow to appreciate the magnitude and import of the mistake and consequent press story and failed to involve enough people swiftly enough," the Wyatt report concluded.

The report also found that the BBC's publicity divisions had failed to recognize the potential scale of the problems.

"It was naive of the BBC team to think that the story might just blow over," the report said. "(Fincham) and his head of communications believed that it was up to them to handle things, were in effect 'in a bubble' and consequently misread the mood."

Bennett had not been sufficiently aware of the detail of a story involving BBC1 that had dominated that day's newspaper front pages, the report said.

"The director of vision was not briefed in the morning on the press coverage, but even given the information she did have, she displayed a lack of curiosity in not getting to the bottom of what exactly the BBC was apologizing to the queen for," the report said.

In a letter Friday to Thompson, Fincham said he resigned "with very great regret."

BBC and ITV have announced a commissions freeze from RDF, a leading indie producer.
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