BBC Director of News, Deputy Step Aside Amid Internal Probes

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The move by Helen Boaden and Stephen Mitchell is at least temporary as Karen O'Connor is named acting head of embattled news program "Newsnight."

LONDON - BBC director of news Helen Boaden and her deputy Stephen Mitchell have stepped aside amid internal probes into editorial processes, the BBC said early Monday.

Meanwhile, Karen O'Connor was named acting editor of embattled flagship news program Newsnight.

It wasn't immediately clear if the moves would become permanent as Boaden and Mitchell were asked to surrender their responsibilities pending the results of the internal inquiries, a BBC News report said.

Previously, Newsnight editor Peter Rippon stepped aside amid the deepening BBC crisis. The latest moves came after the surprise late Saturday resignation of BBC director general George Entwistle.

The BBC later emphasized though: "The BBC wants to make it absolutely clear that neither Helen Boaden nor Stephen Mitchell had anything at all to do with the failed Newsnight investigation...In the circumstances, Helen and Stephen will be stepping aside from their normal roles until the [internal] review reports, and they expect to then return to their positions."

The BBC was not immediately available for further comment on the at least temporary news reshuffle, but more announcements from BBC acting director general Tim Davie are expected later. The BBC also said that further disciplinary action may be taken depending on the outcome of its internal probes.

One probe has looked at failures that led to a mistaken report by Newsnight that a British politician was involved in child abuse. Its results were presented internally on Sunday, and Monday's decisions were based on its findings.

Boaden was director of BBC News at the time of the controversial decision by Newsnight last year not to air a report on sexual abuse allegations against late former BBC host Jimmy Savile. A separate probe is investigating that decision, and Boaden felt she couldn't continue in her role until it is concluded, the BBC said.

The BBC has tapped Fran Unsworth, head of newsgathering, and Ceri Thomas, editor of BBC's Radio 4 Today program, to fill the roles of Boaden and Mitchell, respectively, for the time being.

The BBC said that the goal of the temporary setup was to create a single management structure and chain of command to deal with all news output. "To address the lack of clarity around the editorial chain of command, a decision has been taken to re-establish a single management to deal with all output, Savile related or otherwise," the public broadcaster said.

It added: "Consideration is now being given to the extent to which individuals should be asked to account further for their actions and if appropriate, disciplinary action will be taken."

O'Connor has previously been head of the BBC's London Factual operation. "Karen is responsible for London Factual Production - it's content, it's people and it's ideas - and aims to drive quality and innovation in content and across platforms," her online bio says.

Before that, she was acting commissioning editor for BBC News & Current Affairs where she oversaw such big shows as Panorama and Andrew Marr's History of Modern Britain.


Twitter: @georgszalai