The BBC needs a “thorough, structural, radical overhaul” after George Entwistle, director-general, resigned over a series of journalistic scandals, Lord Patten, the chairman of the BBC trust, said on Sunday.
However, Lord Patten said he would not respond to calls for his resignation in some of the Sunday newspapers. “I think my job is to make sure that we now learn the lessons from the crisis,” he told Sky’s Murnaghan programme.
“If I don’t do that and don’t restore huge confidence and trust in the BBC then I’m sure people will tell me to take my cards and clear off,” he said. “But I will not take my marching orders from Mr Murdoch’s newspapers.”
Lord Patten spoke ahead of a report expected to be published later on Sunday into how Newsnight, the BBC’s flagship late night TV news programme, came to mistakenly report that senior Tory figure had abused boys in a Welsh children’s home in the 1970s and 1980s. Social media sites identified the perpetrator as Lord McAlpine, a former Conservative treasurer, but on Thursday the main witness retracted his accusation, saying it was a case of mistaken identity.
The report, by Ken MacQuarrie, director of BBC Scotland, could lead to more resignations at the broadcaster, senior BBC insiders said.
Mr Entwistle resigned on Saturday, in response to criticism of Newsnight. On Saturday morning, he told the BBC’s Today programme that he did not know about the investigation before it was transmitted, despite news stories and messages on Twitter speculating about a revelation on the programme 12 hours before. He also said he had not seen the broadcast and did not hear about it until the following day.
That crisis over the report follows controversy over a decision by the same programme to drop an investigation into allegations that BBC presenter Jimmy Savile sexually abused children.
Lord Patten said he would start the search for a new director-general straight away to restore trust in the organisation. He hopes to appoint someone within weeks and said he may look for an external candidate.
But he insisted that Mr Entwistle, who had only been in the job for eight weeks, had been the right appointment because he had the right ideas for how to shake up the broadcaster.
“What is absolutely true is that when George said we had to get away from silos, infighting and become more self-critical . . . he was absolutely spot on,” he told the BBC’s Marr show.
He described the former director-general as “a very very good man, cerebral, honourable and brave”.
Conservative ministers said Mr Entwistle had been right to resign. Philip Hammond, defence secretary, said the BBC needed to focus “relentlessly” on rebuilding its reputation. Theresa May, the home secretary, said the BBC had “a job to do to restore public trust”.
Lord Patten said the licence fee that funds the BBC was based on people trusting the organisation.
“If the BBC loses that [trust], it is all over,” he said. “One or two newspapers – the Murdoch papers – would love that but I don’t think the Great British public wants that. We have to restore that trust.”
Responding to speculation that the BBC might scrap Newsnight, Lord Patten said it would be “very sad” to lose the programme which has carried out some “terrific journalism”. But he said it was important the management got a grip on its content.
“We must have the self-confidence to be prepared to investigate, to explore but we must make sure what say is correct,” he said.
Lord Patten said it was “pretty fair comment” when Jonathan Dimbleby, a senior BBC journalist and presenter, blamed cuts – the organisation has shed 7,000 jobs in the past decade – for contributing to shortcomings in its news department.
“Where did those cuts come? Not in management, but in news, which is the frontline of the defining mission of the BBC,” Mr Dimbleby said.
Mr Dimbleby echoed stinging criticism from Jeremy Paxman, the presenter of Newsnight, on Saturday night. Mr Paxman said the BBC had arrived at this “mess” by cutting programme budgets while adding managers.