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BBC Newsnight Crisis: Nick Clegg Insists Entwistle's Payoff 'Hard To Justify'

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Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has said George Entwistle's £450,000 payoff after resigning from the BBC was "difficult to justify", adding his voice to growing criticism over the former director general's severance package.

Entwistle has been awarded a full year's pay only 54 days into his tenure after bowing out over a botched investigation by Newsnight which mistakenly implicated a former Tory politician in a child sex abuse scandal.

Clegg's comments came as it emerged Lord Patten, chairman of the BBC Trust, admitted Entwistle was given twice what he was entitled in order that the disgraced chief "went quietly", according to a report by the Daily Telegraph.

nick clegg and entwistle splash

Speaking to ITV's Daybreak, Clegg said: "It is difficult to justify, difficult to explain, isn't it?

"My reaction was like everybody else's.

"Mr Entwistle was offered this money, he did not need to take it and it is up to the BBC to justify, as Lord Patten sought to, why they took this decision."

He said the decision was ultimately up to the BBC, qualifying his comments on BBC Breakfast and adding: "it is not really for government to micro-manage these things in the BBC.

"The BBC is quite rightly independent of politics and of government but it is up to the BBC to seek to justify these kinds of decisions when they are made."

patten

Lord Patten said the payment was agreed in order to bring Entwistle's resignation to a 'swift resolution'

The culture secretary Maria Miller said on Monday the public spending watchdog could look into whether Entwistle's severance pay was "value for money" for the licence payer, telling the Commons she had written to Lord Patten to raise her concerns and describing it as a "reward for failure"

“The circumstances make it hard to justify the level of severance payment. This is a trust matter but it has a clear responsibility to ensure value for money for the licence fee payer,” she told the Commons.

“Members will know that we have in place procedures to scrutinise – strengthened by this government – and that the National Audit Office can do a value for money review of any issue. If they decide to review, we expect them to co-operate fully.”

maria miller

Maria Miller said the National Audit Office may decide to look into whether the payment was 'value for money'

Senior BBC employees are facing the prospect of disciplinary action after the corporation admitted the Newsnight programme failed to complete "basic journalistic checks".

Patten has defended the sum, saying it was "justified and necessary" to allow a clean break and avoid lengthy delays.

In a letter to John Whittingdale, chairman of the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Lord Patten said the payment was agreed to avoid "long drawn-out discussions and continuing uncertainty".

The settlement was discussed in Parliament after two senior figures - BBC director of news Helen Boaden and her deputy Stephen Mitchell - step aside from their posts temporarily.

Last night, the official report into the Newsnight broadcast by BBC's Scotland director Ken MacQuarrie found the programme has failed to make "basic journalistic checks" and there was confusion about who had the ultimate responsibility for "final editorial sign-off" on the story which falsely linked Lord McAlpine to a paedophile ring.

In the report, he said the programme's editorial management structure had been "seriously weakened" as a result of the editor having to step aside over the Jimmy Savile scandal, and the departure of the deputy editor.

Mr MacQuarrie added that there were shortcomings in the quality of the journalism.

He said: "During the editorial decision-making process, some of the basic journalistic checks were not completed.

"Specifically, identification was not confirmed by photograph with the first victim. The second victim could not be traced in order to provide up-to-date corroboration."

Although legal advice was sought over the report, no right of reply was offered to the unnamed individual at the centre of the allegation.

The programme featured an interview with Steve Messham, an abuse victim who said a senior political figure of the time abused him. He later said he wrongly identified his abuser and apologised.

The BBC said Peter Johnston, director of BBC Northern Ireland, had been involved in the decisions about the Newsnight report.

boris johnson

Johnson backed Patten but called for a 'wholesale massacre' of everybody else

London mayor Boris Johnson said there should be a "wholesale massacre of everybody involved professionally speaking" but backed Lord Patten to keep his role.

He told ITV1's The Agenda with Tom Bradby there had been "an absolutely catastrophic breakdown of journalistic standards" surrounding Newsnight that meant other heads should roll.

"First of all, they ignored the Savile scoop which they were sitting on, and it seems like they had quite a lot of evidence and then they had this crazy switching the steering wheel in the other direction and going for some 'top Tory paedo' without any real evidence.

"It was absolutely disastrous."

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