Mark Thompson’s future at New York Times questioned after Savile scandal

Rosa Silverman – Telegraph.co.uk Oct 24, 2012

Mark Thompson, the former director-general of the BBC, has come under pressure to explain what he knew about the Jimmy Savile sex abuse scandal.

Questions have been raised about his future at The New York Times, where he is the incoming chief executive but will be bringing what one figure on the newspaper described as “so much unwanted baggage.”

The paper’s public editor argued it was “worth considering now whether he is the right person for the job.”

Mr Thompson, who stepped down from his BBC post last month, initially said he was unaware of Savile’s dubious reputation.

But a BBC foreign correspondent cast doubt on his account by claiming she thought she had informed him of the “broad context” of an axed Newsnight exposé on Savile.

Caroline Hawley said she had expressed concerns to Mr Thompson about the cancellation of the investigation at a pre-Christmas drinks party at BBC Television Centre last December.

She had raised the issue with him after speaking to Newsnight journalists who were unhappy about being told to abandon the report.

She told The Times: “I think I must have mentioned the broad context of the investigation but genuinely don’t remember the words I used.”

Mr Thompson said there were “no inconsistencies” between his version of the exchange and that given by Ms Hawley in a written statement to the BBC review into the decision to drop the Newsnight story.

Ms Hawley had not said in her statement that she thought she had told Mr Thompson of the investigation’s “broad context.”

A blog post on The New York Times’ website by the public editor, Margaret Sullivan, raised questions over Mr Thompson’s suitability for the role he is due to start next month.

Ms Sullivan wrote: “How likely is it that the Times Company will continue with its plan to bring Mr. Thompson on as chief executive? (It’s worth noting that as public editor, I have no inside knowledge on such corporate matters.)

“His integrity and decision-making are bound to affect The Times and its journalism – profoundly.

“It’s worth considering now whether he is the right person for the job, given this turn of events. All these questions ought to be asked.

“What are the implications for the Times Company to have its new CEO – who needs to deal with many tough business challenges here – arriving with so much unwanted baggage?”

Yesterday Mr Thompson, who was director-general at the time the Newsnight report was shelved, told ITV news he took “no part in the decision making about whether to proceed with the investigation or not”.

He said: “I have said to the BBC, and I said as soon as the inquiries were announced, that of course if I could help in any way with those inquiries I will do so, and if in the other inquiry, the police inquiry or the (MPs’) select committee want to hear from me of course I will help in any way I can.”

Meanwhile the extent to which the scandal has spread beyond Savile was revealed by George Entwistle, Mr Thompson’s successor.

The new director-general told MPs that nine BBC staff members, including current employees, faced allegations of child sex abuse.

Reports claim that as many as 60 of the alleged victims who have made statements have made allegations against people other than Savile.

Scotland Yard, which is investigating, said it could not confirm the figure.

A spokesman said: “The majority of the allegations have been against Savile but there are a number that relate to others.”

Sir Christopher Bland, the former BBC chairman, said the broadcaster should await the results of the two inquiries into the scandal.

“At the moment the noise of people jumping to conclusions is almost overwhelming,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

What actually took place would not be known “until the email trail is understood and there is a forensic examination of the culture of the BBC long ago,” he said.

Until then, the BBC should “keep calm” but the search for the truth must be “forensic and ruthless,” he added.

Maria Miller, the Culture Secretary, said the Savile scandal had raised “very real concerns” about public trust in the BBC.

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