LONDON — Two of the most senior figures at the British Broadcasting Corp. said Tuesday that there had been “elementary" failures of the organization’s journalism and “appalling editorial judgment" when it wrongly implicated a former Conservative Party politician in sexual abuse, compounding a scandal that cost the BBC’s director general his job and plunged the organization deeper into crisis.
But, addressing a parliamentary committee hearing, one of them, Chris Patten, the chairman of the supervisory BBC Trust, offered a sympathetic defense of the former director general, George Entwistle, whom he had hired, and who had been labeled hapless and bumbling by many politicians and newspaper columnists before and after his resignation on Nov. 10.
“The easiest thing to do is to join in the general trashing of a decent man, and I’m not going to do that," Patten told lawmakers. He described Entwistle as “a decent man" who “doesn’t deserve to be bullied or have his character demolished."
Patten said the trust wanted to bring a quick end to Entwistle’s embattled tenure and so accepted his demand for nearly $800,000, representing a year’s salary and other benefits, after he had spent less than eight weeks in the job.
“What did we get in return?" Patten said. “First of all, we got a settlement that was less than we would have got had we gone through constructive dismissal."
And second, he said, if any of the current inquiries finds that Entwistle “has done anything which is in breach of his contract or the BBC disciplinary guidelines, we can claw back some of the remunerations that has been paid."
Patten and another witness, Tim Davie, the acting BBC director general, were speaking just days before an another inquiry into the separate phone hacking scandal, mainly at Rupert Murdoch’s British newspaper outpost, is to deliver a long-awaited report that could lead to tighter regulation of the press.
The combination of inquiries and findings seemed to illustrate once more the intense scrutiny faced by journalists and editors in Britain at a time when the news business is struggling to make a painful and costly adjustment to the digital era. But Davie said that while the BBC was going through a “major crisis," it was not in chaos. “This is not an organization that is falling apart internally," he said, adding, “I’ve been overwhelmed by journalists at the BBC who are aghast at the errors that were made."
Patten, too, described the failings that led to the scandal as ones that the BBC would quickly put right.
“The BBC tells the truth about itself, even when the truth is appalling," he said. He contrasted the broadcaster’s readiness to clean its stables with what he said had been an opaque and truculent reaction among Britain’s newspapers when confronted by their own scandals.
But Patten’s composure faltered under aggressive questioning by one lawmaker, the Conservative Philip Davies, who pressed him to provide an itinerary of his work schedule at the BBC.
Entwistle appeared before the panel on Oct. 23 when its attention was focused on a decision a year ago by the editor of the current affairs program “Newsnight" to cancel an investigation into the sexual misconduct of Jimmy Savile, a longtime television host who died last year at age 84.