BBC Head Walks Off Interview, Makes Crisis Worse

George Entwistle, the director-general of the BBC, resigned his post earlier this month after one of his programs ran an inaccurate report. Here’s the story, as summarized by New York Magazine:

“Entwistle has been having trouble ever since it was revealed that BBC host Jimmy Savile had sexually abused hundreds of children, but things boiled over on November 2, when the celebrated Newsnight program ran a program implicating a senior Tory politician in child sexual abuse at Welsh care homes. While no one was specifically named on-air, it later leaked online that the man in question was Lord McAlpine, a treasury secretary under Margaret Thatcher, who called the allegations “wholly false and seriously defamatory.”

Shortly after his resignation, the BBC’s newly appointed acting director-general, Tim Davie, gave an interview to Sky News. It didn’t go well.

It rarely looks good when a spokesperson abruptly ends a live interview, particularly when the walk off occurs in the midst of an already-raging crisis. And it’s even worse when a spokesperson walks off an interview that asks him about his predecessor’s poor handling of the media.

But the most surprising thing was that the questions should have been easy to anticipate—and therefore prepare for—prior to the interview.

In a crisis, it’s absolutely critical to show the public that you both understand the crisis and are competent enough to resolve it. Instead, Mr. Davie dug an even deeper PR hole for the British Broadcasting Corporation. If Mr. Entwistle was being accused of incompetence, Mr. Davie didn’t exactly inspire confidence that his tenure would be any better.

BBC acting director-general Tim Davie

One final note: I found it surprising that Mr. Davie didn’t appear to know where to look during the interview (he should have watched my video about where to look during television appearances). As the acting director-general of the BBC, Mr. Davie should be familiar enough with the norms of television to have at least directed his gaze in the right direction.

A grateful tip o’ the hat to the great Jeff Domansky, otherwise known as The PR Coach.

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