LONDON, March 19 (Reuters) - Mark Thompson is to step down as the director general of the BBC after guiding the world-renowned state broadcaster from one of its lowest points to again providing leading entertainment and news through a time of enormous technological upheaval.
Thompson, who will step down after the London Olympics and Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations this summer, said on Monday he had decided to leave after almost eight years in the job.
“We’ve weathered a series of lively storms and been through some trying as well as some very successful times together,” he said in an email to staff.
Thompson took over the top job in 2004 as the corporation hit rock bottom following a very public spat with the government over its coverage of the build up to the Iraq war.
With staff staging spontaneous walk-outs in disgust at the criticism of its editorial standards, Thompson steadied the corporation and rebuilt trust with the public and government.
While he endured further trouble along the way, with criticism over some programmes and standards, he will also be remembered for the launch of the hugely popular iPlayer service which allows viewers to catch up with programmes online.
“He’s been an outstanding success because the one thing most people did not foresee was that the explosion in digital technology would result in the BBC’s having an extraordinary reach and value and its news services being consumed as never before,” Claire Enders of consultants Enders Analysis told Reuters.
“When Mark Thompson took over, BBC1 was not the leading channel in the UK that it is today. For the people who pay the licence fee, that’s quite an important achievement.”
Thompson acknowledged that it had not always been easy, and in October he said the BBC would have to cut by over 10 percent its staff in management, programming and news divisions after Britain’s cash-strapped government imposed deep spending cuts on the corporation’s budget.
“I’ve always been on the side of change because I believe that, in the middle of a media revolution, change is the only way of safeguarding what is so precious about the BBC,” he said.
“But change always brings disruption and uncertainty in its wake - and I do want to say a particular thank you to everyone who has worked with me in the difficult task of transforming the BBC.”
During his time at the corporation, Thompson also clashed with rivals included pay-TV group BSkyB and some newspaper companies who accused the broadcaster of expanding too aggressively and threatening the success of commercial rivals.
With eight national TV channels, 50 radio stations and an extensive website, the BBC’s size and resources had long attracted envy and criticism led by rivals including James Murdoch.
As the recession gathered steam in 2008, that criticism intensified as advertising-funded groups such as ITV struggled to cope, cutting staff and budgtes.
Media consultant Steve Hewlett, who also works for the BBC, said the corporation had quickly regained its poise after Thompson took over.
“As a report card goes, it’s mostly As.”