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Sat Oct 25 19:32:30 SAST 2014

THE BIG READ: 'Exposé' highlights level of rot inside the BBC

Boris Johnson | 14 November, 2012 00:02
FILE: BBC Director General George Entwistle Resigns Over Newsnight Sex Abuse Claims BBC Director General George Entwistle Faces Select Committee Over Jimmy Savile Scandal
George Entwistle announced his resignation as the BBC's director- general after a former Tory treasurer was falsely labelled a paedophile Picture: PETER MACDIARMID/GALLO IMAGES
Image by: Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images

You know, I am afraid that they still don't get it. The people at the BBC show no real sign of understanding what they have done wrong, let alone making amends. We have heard an awful lot in the past 24 hours about the personal calvary of George Entwistle. We know of the agony of BBC chairman Lord Chris Patten, who told us the resignation of Entwistle was "one of the saddest evenings" of his public life.

We have been told of the grief of hundreds of BBC journalists, the anxiety, the anger, their fear for their jobs. Everyone at the BBC is agreed on one thing: that it is a "tragedy". Yes, it is a tragedy for the poor old BBC.

"It's tragic for us," say BBC journalists, who are all interviewing each other in a ludicrous orgy of self-pity.

In all this nauseating navel-gazing and narcissism, there seems to be no one - from Lord Patten downwards - who appears to be remotely interested in the person the BBC has injured. Has anyone even begun to apologise, in a fitting manner, to Alistair McAlpine, the former Tory treasurer they falsely identified as a paedophile?

To call someone a paedophile is to place that person at the very lowest strata of society.

It is utterly incredible that the BBC's flagship news programme decided to level this poisonous allegation against McAlpine when it had not the slightest evidence to support its case. It was sickening yesterday, at 7am, to hear the BBC radio newscaster claim - as if it were some kind of mitigation - that Newsnight did not "name" McAlpine.

Is it really claiming it protected his identity?

If so, it shows utter contempt for its listeners and for the intelligence of the British public. On the afternoon of November 2, it was "tweeted" that a senior Tory politician was to be exposed on Newsnight as a paedophile. He was supposed to have committed a series of specific and vile crimes against a former occupant of the Bryn Estyn children's home in Wales.

"McAlpine" was the name of the mystery millionaire who had surfaced in the 2000 Waterhouse report into the scandal.

"McAlpine" was the name the programme's makers fed out to tweeters and bloggers; and within hours of Newsnight's bizarre broadcast, people such as Sally Bercow - the wife of the current speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow - and journalist George Monbiot were pointing the finger at the bewildered McAlpine, 70, who is spending his retirement running a bed-and-breakfast in southern Italy.

You can't really blame the tweeters and bloggers. "McAlpine" was the steer they were given, and it was Alistair McAlpine that Newsnight had in its sights. It was no protection of McAlpine that he wasn't explicitly named in the first broadcast - and it should be no defence of Newsnight, either. A twitstorm, a blogstorm, an internet hurricane howled around McAlpine. The whole of Fleet Street started to torment their readers with ever more prominent stories about this Top Tory Paedo, while those who used the web could see who was intended. The prime minister was dragged in, and immediately instituted an inquiry.

McAlpine was forced to break cover, and point out that Newsnight was wrong. It was not just wrong: it was a slander more cruel, revolting and idiotic than anything perpetrated by the News of the World.

The programme makers hadn't taken account of the real anxieties about the reliability of their witness, as expressed by Sir Ronald Waterhouse, who led the inquiry into Bryn Estyn. They hadn't shown him a picture of McAlpine. They hadn't even put the allegations to McAlpine. Unbelievable. And why not? It was, as they say, a story that was too good to check. It showed Newsnight taking up the cudgels against paedophiles, after the embarrassment of the axed (Jimmy) Savile exposé. It was a chance to pour unlimited ordure on a man who - in its book - jolly well had it coming. He is rich, he is a toff, he is a Lord, he is a Tory, and - joy of joys - he was an aide to former prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

The BBC cannot minimise what the programme has done. There will be people who will believe that Newsnight would never have broadcast such allegations unless there was something to them . The BBC owes it to McAlpine to grovel and keep grovelling until the public gets the message. Everyone associated with the "paedophile" segment on Newsnight should be sacked instantly. Then Chris Patten should make a penitential pilgrimage to McAlpine's Italian B&B, on his knees and scourging himself with a copy of the BBC charter. This tragedy is not about the BBC; it is about the smearing of an innocent man. The BBC needs to grasp that first. - © The Daily Telegraph

  • Johnson is mayor of London

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