Process and bureaucracy prevented Entwistle knowing the facts, says editor Lisa Campbell.
The one thing that MPs sought from George Entwistle this week was the one thing he couldn’t provide: answers.
The DCMS committee rightly goaded him for failing to ask fundamental questions, challenging his “lamentable lack of knowledge” and his “extraordinary lack of curiosity”.
That’s one problem. The other is that he was straitjacketed by process, and questions now have to be asked about a system that maintains the independence of news but leaves the corporation exposed and its DG humiliated.
To MPs and the rest of the outside world, the idea that the man in charge not only doesn’t know the answers but isn’t allowed to ask is simply perverse.
It resulted in a bizarre situation where Entwistle had none of the basic facts at his finger tips, including why Peter Rippon dropped the investigation, the extent of Helen Boaden’s knowledge of it, and whether she had informed then DG Mark Thompson. And for anyone who saw the powerful testimony of victim Karin Ward on Panorama, the glaring question is why none of the material was passed to police.
To outsiders, the fact that a journalist by trade, and a man who, by all accounts, likes a gossip, did not quiz Boaden at the WFTV Awards as to why Savile was the subject of an investigation is ludicrous.
Perhaps it is a consequence of Entwistle being a BBC lifer, someone who got so tied up in process and concerns about showing “undue interest” that a story with profound consequences for the BBC’s reputation and future went ignored.
It revealed the BBC at its bureaucratic worst and prompted the exasperated response from MPs: “You didn’t want to know?”
It’s also interesting that the Newsnight investigation took place last year against the backdrop of a race for the DG job. It later emerged that both Entwistle and Boaden had their eyes on the prize.
There were countless awkward moments for the DG, not least when he was forced to second-guess the thinking of Rippon, stating: “It’s very hard to make a judgement about someone else’s state of mind.” Perhaps, more than three weeks down the line, the BBC could have asked him by now.
It appears that there is no smoking gun, that Entwistle’s only crime on Tuesday was a floundering performance at the start of his DG career.
However, what is also apparent is that the corporation’s arms-length system is slow, unwieldy and not fi t for purpose in an environment where disturbing news is breaking on a daily basis. And if the corporation is unable or unwilling, the Trust should leap to its defence.
Where was Lord Patten when the news first broke? Why didn’t he get a grip on the situation from day one rather than waiting until 16 October to agree to oversee the inquiries?
It’s an unprecedented situation so surely demands more flexibility to allow the DG, whose name and reputation is on the line, to get to the heart of the truth – and fast.
Lisa Campbell is editor of Broadcast.