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BBC faces extraordinary crisis

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.

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 coverup 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 of sex-abuse claims on a program that aired Nov. 2.

The BBC didn't name the alleged abuser, but online rumours 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.

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.

The BBC boasts 10 national TV channels in addition to regional U.K. programming, 10 national radio stations, 40 local radio stations and a website which averages 3.6 billion hits a month.

Its commercial arm, BBC World News, broadcasts 24 hours a day in more than 200 countries and territories.

Under pressure from critics to justify its $5.6 billion budget in a time of austerity, the BBC in recent years has undergone a series of job cuts, cuts to operations and unpopular changes to employee pension programs.

The Canadian Press


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