BBC Queen footage leads to resignations


LONDON -- BBC 1 controller Peter Fincham and RDF Media chief creative officer Stephen Lambert announced their resignations Friday following the publication of a damning report into how re-edited footage of the Queen was shown to journalists and international buyers. BBC2 controller Roly Keating will take over as acting controller of BBC 1 until a replacement can be found.

The BBC1 documentary "A Year With the Queen" was produced by RDF Media and was due to go on air next year. The footage was shown to reporters as part of the BBC1 season review on 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 had not moved to correct the story soon enough.

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

The editorial, compliance and management failures publicly highlighted by the report will add to the woes of BBC director general Mark Thompson, who has 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 BBC 1 launch, the fact is that serious mistakes were made which put misleading information about the Queen into the public domain," Thompson said in a statement.

"That is why we are determined to take all necessary steps to address the shortcomings set out in this report."

RDF Media's Lambert has since admitted that he was responsible for editing sequences of the Queen in a photoshoot with Annie Liebovitz so that it appeared that the monarch was storming out of the session after an argument.

But RDF did not reveal the full extent of its responsibility for the re-editing until almost 24 hours after the trailer was released, although it became obvious within hours of the program launch that there was a problem, and by which time the Queen's "spat" with the Vanity Fair photographer had become a global news story.

The report found that Fincham and other executives had known that the footage released to the media by the corporation was inaccurate by 5pm on 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 websites around the world.

"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 arising from the royal documentary project.

"It was naive of the BBC team to think that the story might just blow over. The channel controller [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," the report said.

"No-one at any level in the Vision or Marketing, Communications and Audiences divisions seemed to spot that a series with unprecedented access to the Royal Household had the potential to explode in the BBC's face," Wyatt observed.

The report was also critical of BBC director of Vision Jana Bennett, who it said had not been sufficiently aware of the detail of a story involving BBC1 that had dominated that day's newspaper front pages.

"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."

In his resignation letter to BBC director general Mark Thompson, Fincham said he resigned "with very great regret."

"I have had the tremendous privilege of leading BBC1 through a period of creative renewal. I believe we have made some really great programs," he said.

In his reply to Fincham, Thompson said he accepted the resignation with "real sadness," that would be "shared across the BBC and wider broadcasting industry."

"I know you will continue to make an outstanding contribution to British television." Thompson concluded.

Both the BBC and ITV have announced a commissions freeze from leading indie RDF, creator of such shows as "Wife Swap" and "Faking It."