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Q&A: Crisis at the BBC

After being accused of covering up former BBC star Jimmy Savile's sexual abuse, the BBC falsely reported that a Margaret Thatcher-era politician had sexually abused children, leading to the resignation of the network's chief and the arrest of a former producer. NBC's Michelle Kosinski reports.

LONDON -- The British Broadcasting Corp. is in the midst of its worst scandal in years, with the director general stepping down on Saturday.

With the public losing trust in one of Britain’s most trusted enterprises, Chris Patten, the chairman of the BBC Trust, has said the BBC’s organizational structure needed a “radical overhaul” and three top editors have stepped aside. Here’s a look at some of the issues surrounding the crisis at Britain's flagship broadcaster.

What is happening at the BBC?
The BBC has been rocked by scandal following the production of two news programs, one broadcast Nov. 2 that falsely accused a politician and another from 2011 that alleged child sexual abuse by a former star BBC host, but which never aired.

The director general of the BBC, George Entwistle, resigned Saturday amid the furor over how the world’s largest broadcaster has covered the scandal.

On Monday, Helen Boaden, director of BBC News, and her deputy Stephen Mitchell, stepped aside pending a review of the BBC’s handling of the crises. Earlier, the editor of the news program at the center of the scandal had said he would also step aside pending the result of an investigation.

Sweeping child abuse scandal shakes BBC, other UK institutions

The saga has also called into question the role played by the new New York Times Company chief executive, Mark Thompson, a former BBC director general.

Thompson was at the helm last year, when the BBC investigation into the alleged child sex abuse was dropped. He has said he did not know about the program's investigation and had no involvement in the decision to axe the report.

In a statement last month, quoted by The New York Times, Thompson said, “During my time as director general of the BBC, I never heard any allegations or received any complaints about Jimmy Savile.”

The BBC sent NBC News a prepared statement regarding Thompson’s knowledge of the affair:

“Mark Thompson has repeatedly made clear he had no personal knowledge of the allegations." (Click here for the BBC’s full statements on the affair)

How did this crisis begin?
The crisis for the BBC began when it emerged that its flagship news program, “Newsnight,” had decided in December 2011 not to air the results of an investigation into allegations that former BBC star Jimmy Savile had sexually abused children. Instead, the BBC aired a program celebrating the life of Savile, who had recently died. The accusations against Savile were only aired by rival broadcaster ITV in October 2012.

Jimmy Savile abuse scandal stuns Britain: a who's who primer

The number of alleged victims of Savile, a radio and TV star from the 1960s through the 1980s, reached well into the dozens in the aftermath of the ITV program. Meantime, a number of police and other investigations have been launched into why the original “Newsnight” program was dropped and whether the BBC was involved in a cover up.

On Nov. 2, “Newsnight” aired a separate program about allegations of abuse at a children’s home in Wales in the 1980s. In the broadcast, a witness claimed that he had been sexually abused a number of times by a senior Conservative Party politician.

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“Newsnight” did not name the politician allegedly involved. But speculation on the Web suggested the abuser was former British Treasury minister Lord McAlpine, who issued a denial. The “Newsnight” witness then apologized for what he said was a case of mistaken identity. He said police had showed him a picture of his abuser but erroneously told him the man was McAlpine.

What investigations are under way?
In October, Entwistle announced two internal BBC investigations regarding the Savile sex abuse allegations.

The first will be led by Nick Pollard, the former head of Sky News, which is another rival U.K. broadcaster. That probe will examine whether there were any failings of the handling of the original “Newsnight” investigation into the claims against Savile.

A second investigation, led by former High Court Judge Dame Janet Smith, plans to examine the BBC culture during the Savile years.

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In relation to the Wales abuse claims, Cameron said on Nov. 5 he was appointing a “senior independent figure” to investigate the way sexual abuse allegations were handled in the 1970s and 1980s. The next day, British Home Secretary Theresa May announced a new police investigation into the Wales accusations.

BBC Director General George Entwistle resigned on Saturday as the BBC spiraled further into scandal over its coverage of two separate sex abuse cases – one, a cover up, and the other, a possible wrongful accusation. NBC's Keir Simmons reports.

What is the BBC’s background?
Funded by an annual license fee levied on all TV viewers in Britain, the BBC employs around 22,000 people. As well as broadcasting in Britain, the BBC World Service has built an exceptional reputation around the globe reaching about 180 million people in 32 languages through its radio, TV and online services.

Disturbed by both the commercialism of American radio and the state controls imposed in the Soviet Union, the BBC's founding father, John Reith, had intended the BBC to educate, inform and entertain when it was founded in 1922.

NBC News staff and Reuters contributed to this report.

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