Organizational Transformation at the BBC

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Case Details:

Case Code : BSTR231
Case Length : 25 Pages
Period : 1992-2006
Organization : BBC
Pub Date : 2006
Teaching Note : Available
Countries : Britain
Industry : Media and Broadcasting

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This case study was compiled from published sources, and is intended to be used as a basis for class discussion. It is not intended to illustrate either effective or ineffective handling of a management situation. Nor is it a primary information source.

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"My main challenge in the BBC is taking a fantastic British institution and figuring out, with everyone in the BBC, how to get it ready for this completely different world. All of my energy is going into getting the organisation to think about quite radical change. So I see myself as a bit of a gadfly in a way, saying,don't assume that we can carry on as we always have." 1

- Mark Thompson, Director General, British Broadcasting Corporation, in 2006.

"The last 10 years at the BBC, we have seen terrible mismanagement. We had two director generals who really did not know how to run a large corporation." 2

- Kate Adie, Former BBC Reporter on the leadership of John Birt and Greg Dyke, in 2004.

Thompson makes his mark

On May 21, 2004, Mark Thompson (Thompson) was appointed Director General of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), the world's first public broadcasting corporation. 

The immediate task on his hands - to reform the 82-year-old BBC, which had been severely criticized in the Hutton Report. The Hutton Report,3 which went into a BBC report on the British Government's claims about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, described the BBC's editorial system as defective and said that the editors had not scrutinized the script before it was aired. It also found fault with the BBC's management for having failed to act on a complaint given by the Government saying that the report by BBC correspondent Andrew Gilligan (Gilligan) was false. On January 29, 2004, following the publication of the Hutton Report, Greg Dyke (Dyke), Thompson's predecessor, who had stood by Gilligan's story, resigned.

Thompson took charge on June 21, 2004. He was quick to acknowledge the efforts of Dyke, but emphasized that the corporation would require some 'real and radical changes' to sustain itself in the coming years. On his very first day, he announced the restructuring of the BBC's executive committee, the first of the many steps toward creating a simpler and more effective organization structure. The executive committee was divided into three boards - creative, journalism, and commercial - covering the principal activities of the BBC. Thompson headed the creative board.

Thompson also announced that the other businesses of the BBC such as production, commercial businesses, and commissioning would be reviewed with the sole aim of cutting costs and improving the efficiency of the organization as a whole.

He said,"We're going to have to change the BBC more rapidly and radically over the next three to five years than at any previous point in its history. It feels like the task of really changing the BBC has only begun."4 A number of people felt that Thompson had come in at a critical time when the BBC's integrity was under question, employee morale was down, and the impact of digital technology was looming large.

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1] "Mark Thompson Interview,", March 17, 2006.

2] Claire Cozens, "BBC Review 'Doesn't Go Far Enough',", December 07, 2004.

3] In September 2002, the UK government produced a dossier about the weapons of mass destruction allegedly possessed by Iraq. It claimed that the weapons could be deployed within 45 minutes. On May 29, 2003, Andrew Gilligan in the Today program on BBC Radio 4 reported that the 45-minute claim had been included intentionally and was not supported by the intelligence authorities. The UK government condemned the report while the BBC said that it had received the information from a reliable source. On July 09, 2003, the BBC revealed the name of Dr David Kelly (a weapons expert) as the source. On July 17, 2003, Kelly was found dead. The government appointed Lord Hutton to probe into the 'circumstances surrounding the death of Kelly.' On January 28, 2004, the findings of Hutton were published. The report did not find the government guilty but found fault with the BBC's editorial system. It also said that Kelly had committed suicide.

4] "New BBC Boss Announces Shake-up,", June 22, 2004.


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