Here is the news.
With these four words, the BBC's anchors introduce the regular bulletins that inform its 47 million British radio listeners and TV viewers and an additional 239 million people around the world. But the phrase has taken on an eerie resonance since BBC director general George Entwistle suddenly resigned on Nov. 10 after just 54 days in the job. On the forecourt of the broadcaster's newly revamped central London headquarters, BBC journalists jostle for elbow room with throngs of competitors seeking scoops and sound bites. Their prey: the BBC's top managers those who still have jobs.
This storied institution, an international role model for public broadcasters (by law, most British households with a TV pay $231 a year to support the BBC), famed for journalistic excellence and high-quality creative output, is in the grip of a profound crisis. Its trigger was the allegation that for decades it not only overlooked a pedophile in its midst, Jimmy Savile, but may also have inadvertently fostered his predatory career by making him the king of youth presenters. And in recent months, management has compounded these historical failures with a spectacular volley of mistakes and misjudgments that has raised elemental questions not just about how the BBC is funded but about whether it has entirely lost its way.
In return for the taxpayers' largesse, the BBC aims to provide something for everyone, including news, sports and entertainment. That mission made sense until the digital revolution redrew the boundaries of what that might mean. Without the discipline of a commercial imperative, the BBC expanded rapidly and often incoherently, adding staff, channels and layers of managers with impenetrable titles. When public funding could no longer keep pace, cuts fell with equal imprecision. Blurred reporting lines and stretched resources underpin the current crisis. So does a corporate complacency, harder to pin down or to separate from the BBC's very real significance.
If the BBC didn't matter, not only in Britain but also in remote villages and distant cities around the world, its existential struggle could be dismissed as a case study in management bloat and the sclerosis of large organizations. But the BBC is more than a national broadcaster; its news division in particular is an international institution that stands for facts, truth and fairness in English and 27 other languages. "People around the world look to the BBC as a source of objective, analytical commentary," says Jonathan Dimbleby, a broadcaster and writer for the BBC and other organizations. "That is a very precious heritage." That heritage stands at risk as the BBC dominates its own headlines.
For Britain, something just as important is at stake: the public's trust. For the best part of a century, the BBC has been a cornerstone of national identity, even as other public institutions like government and law enforcement as well as private media companies have been besmirched by scandal and fallen in the people's estimation. If Britons cannot trust Auntie Beeb, who then? And why should politicians protect her? At the center of it all sits a newsgathering operation that has no choice but to turn the cameras on itself. It's as big a story as the BBC has covered in its 90-year history.