LONDON, Mar 19 – The director general of the BBC, Mark Thompson, said on Monday he will step down in the autumn after eight years during which he steered the British broadcaster through some of its biggest changes.
Thompson said in an email to staff that the BBC had weathered “lively storms” during his tenure, and that he would stand down after a busy summer including the London Olympics and Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee.
“This morning I told (BBC chairman) Lord Patten that I believe that an appropriate time for me to hand over to a successor and to step down as director-general of the BBC would be the autumn of this year, once the Olympics and the rest of the amazing summer of 2012 are over,” he wrote.
Under Thompson’s watch, the world’s biggest public service broadcaster has adapted to the digital age but struggled with the demands of fiscal austerity.
He took over in 2004 as it faced the biggest crisis in its history, after his predecessor Greg Dyke was forced to quit when an official report into the death of UN weapons inspector David Kelly criticised the corporation’s reporting of the run-up to the war in Iraq.
Since then Thompson has fiercely defended the BBC’s role in producing globally viewed news and entertainment programmes and clashed with those trying to reduce its funding.
But he has also been forced to bring in large-scale job cuts, while he has overseen and a controversial move of a large chunk of the corporation’s workforce from London to Salford in the north of England.
The “Beeb”, as it is affectionately known in Britain, must make budget cuts of 20 percent following a freeze in the licence fee, which all British households with a television must pay.
Thompson said that his eight years in the job made him the longest serving director general since the 1970s.
“Over those eight years (not to mention three chairmen, three prime ministers and five secretaries of state!), we’ve weathered a series of lively storms and been through some trying as well as some very successful times together,” he wrote in the email.
BBC chairman Chris Patten said Thompson had been “outstanding” and added that the BBC trust, which oversees the broadcaster, would shortly begin the process of recruiting a successor.
“He took over during a traumatic period in the corporation’s history and subsequently enhanced its reputation for creativity and quality, while setting the course for the BBC’s digital future,” Patten said.