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BBC boss Entwistle quits amid turmoil over network's child sex abuse scandal

BBC Director General George Entwistle resigned Saturday after the network wrongly implicated a 90-year-old politician in a child sex-abuse scandal. NBC's Michelle Kosinski reports.

LONDON -- BBC Director General George Entwistle resigned Saturday after saying the broadcaster should not have aired a report that wrongly implicated a politician in a child sex-abuse scandal that has thrown the 90-year-old state-funded broadcaster into turmoil.

Entwistle, just two months into the job, has faced widespread criticism since a rival broadcaster carried charges last month that a former BBC star, the late Jimmy Savile, was one of Britain's most prolific sex offenders.

Entwistle's comments followed an embarrassing retreat for the BBC, which apologized Friday for its Nov. 2 "Newsnight" TV show on alleged sex abuse in Wales in the 1970s and 1980s. During the program, victim Steve Messham claimed he had been abused by the politician. The BBC didn't name the alleged abuser, but online rumors focused on one, who Friday issued a fierce denial and threatened to sue.

Messham then said he had been mistaken about his abuser's identity and apologized to the politician, prompting fury over the BBC's decision to air the report and the suspension of investigative programs at "Newsnight."

Speaking outside the BBC center in London on Saturday, Entwistle said he had taken the decision "in the light of the unacceptable journalistic standards of the "Newsnight" film broadcast on Friday 2nd November" because he was editor-in-chief.

"I have decided that the honorable thing to do is to step down from the post of director general," he said. "The wholly exceptional events of the past few weeks have led me to conclude that the BBC should appoint a new leader."

BBC Director of Audio and Music Tim Davie was appointed BBC's acting director general following Entwistle’s resignation.

Accepting Entwistle's resignation, BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten said: "This is undoubtedly one of the saddest evenings of my public life. At the heart of the BBC is its role as a trusted global news organization. As the editor-in-chief of that organization, George has very honorably offered us his resignation because of the unacceptable mistakes -- the unacceptable shoddy journalism -- which has caused us so much controversy."

Earlier Saturday, Entwistle told BBC radio, "We should not have put out a film that was so fundamentally wrong. What happened here is completely unacceptable."

Carl Court / AFP - Getty Images file

BBC Director General George Entwistle, speaks to the media after attending an October Commons culture committee in central London.

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But Enwistle's insistence that he was not aware of the program before it was broadcast — saying in hindsight he wished the matter had been referred to him — had drawn incredulity from politicians and media watchers wondering how he could have allowed a second botched handling of a high-profile child sex-abuse story so soon after the broadcaster was pitched into crisis over allegations against Savile.

"The level of failure of management at every level within the BBC, up to and including the director general, is just extraordinary," 
John Whittingdale, chairman of parliament's Culture, Media and Sport Committee, told Reuters.

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The scandal around Savile, who died last year and who is alleged to have sexually abused many young people, put the BBC and its premier investigative program "Newsnight" on the firing line after it emerged the program had decided to shelve its own report into allegations against Savile.

Hundreds hundreds of people are coming forward to report abuse dating back over several decades by Savile, a household name in Britain, and others.

Lawyers representing some of the victims have said their clients indicated an organized pedophile ring involving celebrities existed at the BBC during the height of Savile's fame in the 1970s and 1980s.

"Newsnight" pulled a planned expose of Savile shortly after his death last year, and the BBC went ahead with tribute shows.

Furor over that decision was reignited when the same program aired the Nov. 2 report about alleged sex abuse in Wales in the 1970s and 1980s.

Entwistle's full statement:

"In the light of the fact that the Director-General is also the Editor-in-Chief and ultimately responsible for all content; and in the light of the unacceptable journalistic standards of the Newsnight film broadcast on Friday 2nd November; I have decided that the honorable thing to do is to step down from the post of Director-General.

"When appointed to the role, with 23 years' experience as a producer and leader at the BBC, I was confident the Trustees had chosen the best candidate for the post, and the right person to tackle the challenges and opportunities ahead. However the wholly exceptional events of the past few weeks have led me to conclude that the BBC should appoint a new leader.

"To have been the Director-General of the BBC even for a short period, and in the most challenging of circumstances, has been a great honor.

"While there is understandable public concern over a number of issues well covered in the media - which I'm confident will be addressed by the Review process - we must not lose sight of the fact that the BBC is full of people of the greatest talent and the highest integrity. That's what will continue to make it the finest broadcaster in the world."

This story includes reporting by Reuters and The Associated Press.

For 20 years, Jimmy Savile's children's show was a highlight of Saturday night family TV on the BBC. But now, British police say 300 people have come forward with claims that Savile abused them during his 60-year broadcasting career. NBC's Annabel Roberts reports.

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