The British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC) announced plans last week for some of the biggest budget cuts in its 82-year history, slashing at least 10 percent of its staff and more than $550 million.
Mark Thompson, the BBC's new director general, told the BBC’s staff "there will be a period of pain and uncertainty, and I am sorry for that."
The BBC, which is funded largely by a mandatory public licensing fee of about $225 per household, has been the object of intense criticism on two fronts in recent months. The more visible dispute has been between journalists and Prime Minister Tony Blair over a BBC radio report that in the prelude to the Iraq invasion, Blair’s government knowingly distorted intelligence reports about Iraq’s alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction.
After a public inquiry exonerated the government, the corporation’s chairman and director general were forced to step down. The conflict affirmed the view of conservative critics who contend the BBC has been the voice of the left-of-center establishment, while the corporation’s supporters saw the struggle as a battle for the BBC’s journalistic integrity and independence, the Washington Post reported.
But the more protracted struggle has been over the role and future of the nonprofit corporation, which seeks to maintain its special status as a public service institution while competing for talent and ratings with a host of private, profit-driven networks, cable and satellite television stations, and other media companies. The BBC’s public charter is due for renewal in two years, giving critics in Parliament a rare opportunity to slash or attempt to eliminate the licensing fee.
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