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BBC says its news chief, her deputy 'step aside'

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press
Monday, November 12, 2012 - 8:34 am

LONDON — The BBC's news chief and her deputy have "stepped aside" while the broadcaster deals with the fallout from a child abuse scandal that forced its director-general to resign, the broadcaster said Monday.

Helen Boaden, the BBC's director of news and current affairs, and her deputy, Stephen Mitchell, have handed over their responsibilities to others for the time being "to address the lack of clarity around the editorial chain of command," the corporation said.

"Consideration is now being given to the extent to which individuals should be asked to account further for their actions and if appropriate, disciplinary action will be taken," the statement said.

The BBC, meanwhile, faced criticism for agreeing to a 450,000 pounds ($715,000) payoff — a year's salary — for George Entwistle, who resigned as director-general on Saturday after a BBC news program bungled reports that powerful Britons sexually abused children.

Prime Minister David Cameron's spokesman said Monday the payoff for Entwistle, who led the BBC for just 54 days, was "hard to justify."

"Clearly, it is hard to justify a sizeable payoff of that sort," Prime Minister David Cameron's spokesman Steve Field told reporters, but added it was for the BBC to justify the decision.

However, the prime minister gave his support to Chris Patten, the embattled chairman of the BBC Trust, the corporation's governing body.

"The important thing is for Chris Patten to lead the BBC out of its present difficulties," Field told reporters.

The multi-faceted crisis stems from allegations that the late Jimmy Savile, a BBC entertainment star, was a serial sexual abuser of underage girls. Newsnight, a BBC news program, was working on an investigation which was shelved last year by an editor, and the BBC subsequently went ahead with a year-end tribute program to Savile.

Earlier this month, the same news program wrongly implicated a British politician in sex-abuse claims. The program did not identify the politician but the name quickly became known.

The BBC said it wanted "to make it absolutely clear that neither Helen Boaden nor Stephen Mitchell had anything at all to do with the failed Newsnight investigation" which linked a politician to allegations of sexual abuse.

The statement suggested that both were too busy dealing with various inquiries to give full attention to their jobs.

Following the conclusion of a review of BBC management's role in the failed Newsnight investigation, Boaden and Mitchell "expect to then return to their positions," the BBC said.