BBC Trust chairman defends payoff to former chief

AP News
Posted: Nov 27, 2012 12:39 PM

LONDON (AP) — The BBC paid its former director-general $772,000 after only 54 days at the helm because it was the only viable way to get him to leave in the wake of the broadcaster's sex abuse scandal, the chairman of its governing body said Tuesday.

George Entwistle resigned this month after coming under heavy criticism over the venerable broadcaster's coverage of a child sex abuse scandal, which implicated one of its biggest stars and raised questions about its news judgment.

The payout of a full year's salary was "one hell of a lot of money" but the broadcaster's lawyers advised that working out a deal with Entwistle would be cheaper than firing him, Chris Patten, the chairman of the BBC Trust, conceded to Parliament's Culture, Media and Sport Committee investigating the scandal.

"We did not have grounds for dismissal," Patten said. "We could either accept a consensual deal for 12 months, or the situation would drift on and we would find ourselves with a constructive dismissal (claim) and also an unfair dismissal."

Entwistle lost confidence after failing to convincingly explain a decision by "Newsnight," the BBC's flagship news program, to shelve an investigation into claims that the late BBC personality Jimmy Savile was a serial sexual predator of young women. The show had also falsely accused a retired senior politician of being a pedophile.

The problems at "Newsnight" are the subject of an independent investigation expected to complete its work next month, Patten said.

He said that despite the BBC's problems it still represents quality television.

"Anyone who rubbishes the BBC should be forced to watch Italian, French or American TV for a week or so," he said.

The BBC Trust recently appointed Tony Hall, former head of its news division, to take over as director-general.