BBC under pressure to restore trust after scandal

Associated Press Modified: November 12, 2012 at 1:32 am •  Published: November 12, 2012
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LONDON (AP) — The bungling of reports that powerful Britons sexually abused children has thrown one of the largest and most respected broadcasters in the world into a deep crisis.

It is hard to overstate the importance of the BBC in British society; its influence stretches throughout the former British empire and beyond. Over the years, the BBC has been behind almost all of the U.K.'s broadcast milestones, serving as a voice for the British nation. Its airwaves have carried the clanging of Big Ben's bells, wartime messages from Winston Churchill, and the music of the Beatles — exporting British culture to a global audience.

The head of the BBC's governing body called Sunday for an overhaul of the broadcaster. That could mean many things for the sprawling organization that has long emphasized its obligations to the public. To know what it would take, it is important to know what the BBC is and the scale of the crisis it faces.

WHAT HAPPENED:

Last month, the BBC drew fire after it emerged its "Newsnight" program had shelved an investigation into child sexual abuse allegations against Jimmy Savile, the broadcaster's renowned TV host who died last year.

Police say that since their investigation started they have received complaints from some 300 victims of the platinum-haired, tracksuit-wearing Savile and associates — and that some of the abuse may have occurred on BBC premises. Questions soon arose over whether shelving the "Newsnight" piece was part of a cover-up or if BBC managers had heard of but ignored claims of abuse by Savile while he was hosting such shows as "Top of the Pops."

Amid public outrage, BBC director general George Entwistle announced internal inquiries into why the "Newsnight" investigation was canned as well as the BBC's "culture and practices" during the years Savile worked there.

But then, "Newsnight" wrongly implicated a British politician in a sex-abuse claims program that aired Nov. 2.

The BBC didn't name the alleged abuser, but online rumors focused on Alistair McAlpine, a Conservative Party member. On Friday, McAlpine issued a fierce denial, and shortly after, the abuse victim interviewed by "Newsnight" admitted he had mistakenly identified his abuser.

The BBC apologized for airing the program, which Entwistle said he had not been made aware of. That stance drew incredulity from politicians and media watchers wondering if he was out of touch or inept. The criticism reached fever pitch, and Entwistle decided to resign Saturday. A day later, Chris Patten, the head of the BBC's governing body, called for a "thorough, radical structural overhaul" of the broadcaster.

THE BBC'S EVOLUTION

Some observers say the BBC's massive size and rapid growth have resulted in a decentralized structure without clear lines of responsibility, leaving the door open for shoddy journalism. But while today the BBC is a global brand, it started out with a simple mission in November 1922: to inform, educate and entertain.

It took on a crucial role in public life with the onset of World War II, when the service brought Churchill's famous speeches to the airwaves. The BBC expanded its overseas language services, and its radio programs became a lifeline of information — including even for Nazi leader Adolf Hitler's own command, according to the broadcaster.

Television took on a greater role within the organization after the war, hitting a milestone when 20 million viewers tuned in for Queen Elizabeth II's coronation in 1953. The BBC expanded its offerings, launching current affairs program "Panorama" — still a hit today — and the first British soap opera.

The media behemoth's solid news foundation showed in the 1980s with its coverage of the Falklands War, the first Live Aid concert and the royal wedding of Prince Charles and Diana, which drew one of the largest TV audiences ever.

In more recent years, the BBC has greatly expanded its digital broadcasting and Internet services.

HOW BIG IS IT?

Today, the organization says it reaches a weekly audience of 166 million people globally over multiple platforms, including radio, digital satellite and cable channels.



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