BBC Chairman Criticized for Short Handover Period to Last Director General

Chris Patten - H 2012

Mark Thompson, the new CEO of the New York Times Co., had offered to stay at the U.K. broadcaster longer to give George Entwistle, who resigned after only 54 days, time to grow into the job.


LONDON - BBC Trust chairman Chris Patten, who has started the process of looking for a new director general for the British public broadcaster after the resignation of George Entwistle, has come under renewed fire.

A report in the Times of London, part of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., said that the outgoing leader of the broadcaster, Mark Thompson, who last week started his new job as CEO of the New York Times Co., had offered to stay on board longer to help Entwistle grow into the top job. Sources told the paper that Thompson emphasized his schedule was flexible enough that he could stay on board through the end of the year.

The Telegraph later also reported that the short handover has been criticized and further heightened the pressure on Patten as he looks to hire a new leader.

Representatives for the BBC and the BBC Trust, the broadcaster's governing body, said that the Trust only has the power to appoint the director general. But the Times cited sources as saying Patten could have urged Entwistle to ensure more executive overlap to grow into the top job.

"After appointing George Entwistle as director general designate, the trust undertook to ensure that Mark Thompson made himself available for an appropriate handover, which he was happy to do,” a trust spokeswoman said. “Mark and George agreed a mutually suitable handover period between them, and the trust played no part in deciding the length of this."

Previous director generals generally had longer induction periods than just a few weeks, industry observers here have noted.

The Times and The Sun, which is also part of Murdoch's News Corp., have criticized Patten's handling of the BBC crisis in editorials.

The Times also said that former COO Caroline Thomson, who lost out to Entwistle in the hiring process for the director general role, similarly offered to delay her departure from the BBC until some time in 2013 to ensure a smooth handover.

The Times quoted sources as saying that due to the short handover period, Entwistle had little support during the sexual abuse scandal surrounding late former BBC host Jimmy Savile this fall and a mistaken TV report that contained child abuse allegations against a veteran politician. The scandals early in Entwistle's tenure led him to resign earlier this month after just 54 days in the job.

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