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BBC news chief steps aside

Tuesday 13 Nov 2012 6:08a.m.

BBC news chief steps aside

By Robert Barr

The BBC's news chief and her deputy have been temporarily replaced while the broadcaster deals with the fallout from coverage of a child abuse scandal that forced its director general to resign, the broadcaster said Monday.

Helen Boaden, the BBC's director of news and current affairs, and her deputy, Stephen Mitchell, have handed over their responsibilities to others for the time being "to address the lack of clarity around the editorial chain of command," the corporation said.

"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," the statement said.

The BBC, meanwhile, faced criticism for agreeing to a 450,000 pounds (US$715,000) payoff - a year's salary - for George Entwistle, who resigned as director general on Saturday after a BBC news program bungled reports that powerful Britons sexually abused children.

Prime Minister David Cameron's spokesman on Monday criticized the payoff for Entwistle, who led the BBC for just 54 days.

"Clearly, it is hard to justify a sizeable payoff of that sort," spokesman Steve Field told reporters, but added it was for the BBC to justify the decision. 

However, the prime minister gave his support to Chris Patten, the embattled chairman of the BBC Trust, the corporation's governing body.

"The important thing is for Chris Patten to lead the BBC out of its present difficulties," Field told reporters.

The multi-faceted crisis stems from allegations that the late Jimmy Savile, a BBC entertainment star, was a serial sexual abuser of underage girls. "Newsnight," a BBC news program, was working on an investigation which was shelved last year by an editor, and the BBC subsequently went ahead with a year-end tribute program to Savile.

Earlier this month, the same news program wrongly implicated a British politician in sex-abuse claims. The program did not identify the politician but the name quickly became known.

The BBC said it wanted "to make it absolutely clear that neither Helen Boaden nor Stephen Mitchell had anything at all to do with the failed `Newsnight' investigation" which linked a politician to allegations of sexual abuse.

The statement suggested that both were too busy dealing with various inquiries to give full attention to their jobs.

Following the conclusion of a review of BBC management's role in the failed "Newsnight" investigation, Boaden and Mitchell "expect to then return to their positions," the BBC said.

Iain Overton, who was involved in preparing the "Newsnight" story about the politician, resigned Monday as editor of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. The organization said the story had been "strictly contrary to the fundamental principles and standards of the bureau."

AP

 
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