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BBC Chief Quits After TV Report Airs False Sex Abuse Claims

British Broadcasting Corp. Director General George Entwistle quit his post last night, less than two months after being appointed and fewer than two weeks after a BBC television report falsely implicated a former senior politician with sexual abuse of a child.

Entwistle, who served also as editor-in-chief and took over from former Director General Mark Thompson in mid-September, said “exceptional events” in recent weeks -- two sexual abuse investigations gone awry -- led to his decision.

Citing unacceptable journalistic standards involved in the “Newsnight” broadcast, Entwistle said in a statement, “I have decided that the honourable thing to do is to step down from the post of director-general.”

On Nov. 2, “Newsnight” aired false claims by an abuse victim involving an ex-Conservative Party politician at child- care homes in Wales. Even though the politician, Alistair McAlpine, wasn’t named on “Newsnight,” he was wrongly identified on the Internet as the alleged abuser, the BBC said.

That followed on the heels of a controversy over why the broadcaster canceled a report last year involving child sex abuse allegations against Jimmy Savile, a former host at the BBC.

One abuse victim, Steve Messham, has apologized to McAlpine, Tory treasurer during Margaret Thatcher’s leadership, saying McAlpine didn’t assault him.

The BBC is conducting two investigations, one addressing the culture and practices of the BBC when Savile worked there and one on why the episode of “Newsnight” discussing Savile was canceled.

‘Immediate Pause’

The BBC’s internal inquiries also will look into the role of executives such as Thompson, who is scheduled to start a new job as the New York Times Co. (NYT)’s chief executive officer tomorrow.

Robert Christie, a spokesman for the New York Times Co., said yesterday Thompson will start the job as planned. He declined to comment further.

BBC Trust Chairman Chris Patten, commenting on Entwistle’s resignation, said it’s “undoubtedly one of the saddest days of my public life.”

The BBC has ordered an “immediate pause” in “Newsnight” investigations, and a suspension of all co-productions with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which worked on the “Newsnight” broadcast.

Entwistle, 50, joined the BBC in 1989 as a broadcast journalism trainee.

London police are probing claims that Savile, who died last year at the age of 84, may have abused more than 300 people as far back as 1959. He started at the BBC in 1964 and worked there for more than three decades. He was the host of “Top of the Pops” and “Jim’ll Fix It.”

London’s Metropolitan Police said in a statement today they arrested a man in his seventies in Cambridgeshire, England this morning on suspicion of sexual offenses. He is the third person to be arrested under “Operation Yewtree,” the investigation into alleged sexual abuses by Savile and others. The police did not name the man.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kristen Schweizer in London at kschweizer1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Kenneth Wong at kwong11@bloomberg.net

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