Rocked by accusations it sat on an investigation alleging that former star presenter Jimmy Savile was a serial sexual offender, the BBC is seeing close scrutiny of its much-valued independence.
Crises are nothing new at the BBC, a 90-year-old institution still regarded by many Britons as a “national treasure” even after embarking last year on a painful process to reshape itself by shedding jobs and cutting budgets.
The latest one revolves around why and how the broadcaster shelved what would have been a bombshell investigation alleging that the late Jimmy Savile – a ubiquitous and eccentric presence in its light entertainment schedule during the '70s and '80s and a star similar in stature to Johnny Carson – had been a serial sex offender.
But while broader questions about child protection in British society have been raised by the allegations that Savile was a prolific molester who preyed on both women and girls at locations ranging from hospitals to the BBC's own headquarters, the controversy is also now evolving into a potential catalyst for radical changes to the sacred principles behind how the broadcaster is run.
As the affair evolved Wednesday into a potential clash between the government and the BBC, experts predicted that the news organization's much-valued ability to act without official interference would come under the spotlight.
“Independence from government is treasured at the BBC,” says Lis Howell, director of broadcasting at the department of journalism in City University, London, who was formerly an experienced journalist and executive at the BBC and other broadcasters. “But both it and also its management structure are going to be looked at because of what cropped up since the Savile saga.”