The BBC’s director general, George Entwistle, has resigned in the wake of the Newsnight child abuse broadcast.
In a statement outside New Broadcasting House in London, Mr Entwistle said: “I have decided that the honourable thing to do is to step down.”
Earlier, Mr Entwistle said Newsnight’s report, which led to Thatcher-era Tory Lord McAlpine being wrongly implicated, should not have been aired.
The broadcast covered cases of child abuse at north Wales care homes.
BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten, who appeared alongside Mr Entwistle when he delivered his statement, will answer questions on the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme on Sunday morning.
Mr Entwistle took up the post of director general on 17 September, and his sudden resignation makes him the shortest-serving BBC director general.
In his statement, he said: “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 2 November, I have decided that the honourable thing to do is to step down from the post of director general.”
He said that when he was appointed to the role, he was confident BBC 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,” he said.
“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 honour.
“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.”
Later, speaking outside his home following his resignation, Mr Entwistle said he was going to “spend some time with my family”.
During his 54 days in charge, Mr Entwistle has also had to deal with controversy over the BBC shelving a Newsnight investigation into former BBC presenter and DJ Jimmy Savile, who police say could have abused as many as 300 people over a 40-year-period.
As a result, former Sky News head Nick Pollard is examining whether there were BBC management failings following the Newsnight programme not being broadcast, Also, an inquiry has begun into the culture and practices at the BBC in the era of alleged sexual abuse by Savile. Another review is to examine sexual harassment policies at the BBC.
Mr Entwistle’s resignation came after he was criticised for his performance during an interview on the BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme on Saturday, in which he admitted he had not read a newspaper article revealing the case of mistaken identity involving Lord McAlpine, and that he had not seen the Newsnight broadcast when it aired on 2 November as he “was out”.
Lord Patten, who made a statement following Mr Entwistle’s resignation, said: “This is undoubtedly one of the saddest evenings of my public life.”
He said: “At the heart of the BBC is its role as a trusted global news organisation.
“As the editor in chief of that news organisation George has very honourably offered us his resignation because of the unacceptable mistakes – the unacceptable shoddy journalism – which has caused us so much controversy.
“He has behaved as editor with huge honour and courage and would that the rest of the world always behaved the same.”
Culture Secretary Maria Miller said: “It is a regrettable, but right decision. It is vital that credibility and public trust in this important national institution is restored.
“It is now crucial that the BBC puts the systems in place to ensure it can make first class news and current affairs programmes.”
But Labour MP Ben Bradshaw, who sits on the culture select committee, said Mr Entwistle’s departure was a “terrible mistake” and that he had been “hung out to dry”.
He described Mr Entwistle as “an honourable, highly talented, very very good man who is trying to do the right thing”.
“George Entwistle has been badly let down by BBC News managers and the people around him. He was trying to get to grips with that. The BBC should have given him time.”
Conservative MP Philip Davies, who also sits on the culture select committee, said Lord Patten should resign. “He is responsible for the public’s trust in the BBC,” Mr Davies told the BBC. “That trust is at an all time low.”
BBC reporter Ben Geoghegan says the decision has divided opinion. The likes of Mr Bradshaw and former BBC chairman Sir Christopher Bland say that Mr Entwistle has been wrongly sacrificed. However, many other people – the majority – believe it is probably the right decision because of the depth of the crisis, our reporter said.
Tim Davie, director of BBC Audio and Music, will take over as acting director general immediately.
BBC home editor Mark Easton said the BBC was at a “real crossroads, because its whole future depends on convincing the public in the United Kingdom that this is an organisation in which they have confidence, and in which they have trust, and that they believe in the integrity of our news coverage”.
The organisation is, in some ways, in a very dangerous position, he added.
Newsnight reported on 2 November an abuse victim’s claims against a leading 1980s Tory politician.
Lord McAlpine, although not named on Newsnight, was wrongly identified on the internet as the alleged abuser at care homes in north Wales in the 1980s.
The former senior Tory has said the claims are “wholly false and seriously defamatory”.
One abuse victim, Steve Messham, has apologised to Lord McAlpine, Tory treasurer during Margaret Thatcher’s leadership, after saying he did not assault him.
Mr Messham said in the 1990s he was shown a photograph by police of his alleged abuser but was incorrectly told it was Lord McAlpine.
The BBC has ordered an “immediate pause” in Newsnight investigations to assess editorial robustness and a suspension of all co-productions with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which worked on the Newsnight broadcast.
Before his departure, Mr Entwistle had commissioned a report from BBC Scotland director Ken MacQuarrie into what happened with the Newsnight investigation.
And the BBC also ordered a senior news executive to “supervise” Friday night’s edition of Newsnight, during which an apology was broadcast.
– BBC News