Pay-Off for Departed BBC Boss Causes U.K. Media Storm

 

LONDON – British media and politicians alike joined other critics on Monday in their disapproval of a decision to pay George Entwistle, who quit late Saturday night as BBC director general, a year's salary.

As reported late Sunday, Entwistle, who announced his departure after just 54 days in office, will receive $715,000 (£450,000) after quitting amid a deepening crisis of confidence in the U.K. public broadcaster. That was twice the amount to which he had been entitled under executive pay rules.

Much of the criticism is coming from politicians at the Conservative Party and newspapers that are part of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. After the phone hacking scandal that engulfed the company and led to the closure of the News of the World tabloid, the U.K. papers of the conglomerate on Monday continued to criticize the BBC.

Much of the criticism focused on the BBC Trust, the broadcaster's governing body, and its chairman Chris Patten.

The Sun tabloid on Monday ran a story highlighting increasing pressure on the BBC chairman to resign and in an editorial argued that the "total overhaul" of the BBC that Patten has called for should start with his own departure. News Corp.'s Times on Sunday had also criticized Patten.

The call came under the Sun headline "Toast Man Patt," a reference to popular British children's TV show Postman Pat.

The Times on Monday also carried a story that British Prime Minister David Cameron has joined in "a chorus of demands" for Entwistle to give up some of his payout.

A spokesperson for the Prime Minister was quoted as saying that Cameron felt the payout was “hard to justify” and it was “a matter for George Entwistle’s conscience” whether he accepted it or not.

Tabloid The Mirror, a traditionally more left-leaning newspaper, also carried a story questioning the payout, working out it amounted to $12,715 (£8,000) a day for the time Entwistle was in charge of the BBC.

Politicians also called the payout into question. Among them were high-profile parliamentarians such as Conservative Party member John Whittingdale, the chairman of the House of Commons culture committee.

Whittingdale, who chaired a grilling by his committee of Entwistle just over two weeks ago about the Jimmy Savile sex abuse scandal raging at the BBC, told the broadcaster's web site that he wanted to know why the BBC Trust felt the payout was "appropriate."

Whittingdale told the BBC: "A lot of people would be very surprised that somebody who was in the job for such a short period of time and then had to leave in these circumstances should be walking away with £450,000 of license fee-payers' money."

Opposition Labour Party deputy leader Harriet Harman simply said the payout was "not justifiable."

Entwistle resigned after BBC flagship TV news show Newsnight aired a report wrongly accusing a British politician of child abuse before retracting its report. Despite apologizing for the mistake as the BBC director general who is not only the top business leader of the broadcaster, but also serves as its editor-in-chief, he went on to resign.

Another Conservative member of the committee Whittingdale chairs, Philip Davies, on Monday called for Patten to step down as BBC Trust chairman.

Davies described to The Telegraph the payout as "absolutely astonishing, it is unacceptable, it is unjustifiable and it is an affront to licence fee-payers."

He also said that Patten was "asleep at the wheel. He wasn't saying that the BBC needs a radical overhaul when he took over or in the first year of him being in the job."

In a statement regarding the director general's departure settlement, a BBC Trust spokesman said: "The BBC reached a consensual termination agreement with George Entwistle [on Saturday] and agreed to pay him 12 months pay, in lieu of notice. This reflects the fact that he will continue to help on BBC business, most specifically the two ongoing [internal] inquiries."

Whittingdale told the BBC he remains unconvinced by this argument. "I wouldn't have thought that just because you have to help any inquiry into the Savile allegations you necessarily need to be paid such a large amount of money," he said.

Harman and others said Entwistle should not accept the full payout. "It is not justifiable for the BBC to pay double the contractually required sum to the director general on his resignation," she said before adding, "it looks like a reward for failure."

BBC broadcaster David Dimbleby, speaking on the politically influential flagship Today program on Radio 4, described the BBC's layers of management as "bonkers and gobbledegook" and said the broadcaster was embroiled in one of its biggest ever internal crises.

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