BBC's Savile Report Goes Easy on New NYT Co. CEO Mark Thompson; Times Reporters Seem Skeptical

A report into the British Broadcasting Corporation handling of the Jimmy Savile child-sex abuse scandal was released Wednesday, and the upper management of the BBC got off lightly, though the management culture of the BBC came in for criticism. One prominent member of that management: Mark Thompson, who served as director-general of the BBC for eight years until earlier this year, when he became chief executive of the New York Times Co.

Interestingly, Thursday's front-page Times story from London by John Burns and Stephen Castle, "Report Fault Lax Leadership At BBC in Sex Abuse Scandal," featured Thompson more prominently than the report itself did. A text box on the Times' inside page reads, "An inquiry that some say went too easy on top management." From the Times:

Lax leadership hampered by “rigid management chains” left the British Broadcasting Corporation “completely incapable” of dealing with the sexual abuse crisis that has shaken the network, in the words of an exhaustive report released Wednesday.

The 200-page report by Nick Pollard, a veteran British broadcast executive, strongly criticized the editorial and management decisions that prompted the BBC to cancel a broadcast last year that would have exposed decades of sexual abuse by Jimmy Savile, a BBC fixture who had been one of Britain’s best-known television personalities.

While the scandal led to the resignation and reassignment of several top executives -- including George Entwistle, just two months into his tenure in the BBC’s top job as director general -- Mr. Pollard absolved top management of applying “undue pressure” in the decision to stop the broadcast.

The report also did not challenge the assertions of Mark Thompson, then head of the BBC, that he had no role in killing the Savile investigation and was unaware of the sexual abuse accusations until he left the BBC this September. Mr. Thompson is now president and chief executive of The New York Times Company.

The paper sidled up to criticism of the soft treatment of Thompson, who was director-general of the BBC when a news investigation into Savile, the veteran BBC entertainer, was scuttled.

But it paid scant attention to the role of the former director general, Mr. Thompson, and did not fault him for missing opportunities to learn the details of the allegations against Mr. Savile.

After Mr. Thompson was told about the scuttled segment by a BBC reporter at a reception in late December 2011, he said, he asked his news executives about it. According to his testimony to the Pollard inquiry, he “received reassurances” that it had been killed for “editorial or journalistic reasons” and “crossed it off my list and went off to worry about something else.”


In the weeks after the “Newsnight” cancellation, the Savile investigation became the subject of news media coverage in Britain that cited some of the evidence of sexual abuse by Mr. Savile. BBC officials have said some of the articles were  included in press summaries prepared for Mr. Thompson. But Mr. Pollard wrote: “Mr. Thompson told me that the various press stories which followed passed him by. I have no reason to doubt what he told me.”

In September, during Mr. Thompson’s final days at the BBC, the corporation asked an outside law firm to send a letter to The Sunday Times threatening to sue if the paper went ahead with plans to publish an article alleging that he and Ms. Boaden had been involved in a conspiracy to scuttle the segment. The Pollard report said it was clear that Mr. Thompson “did approve sending the letter.” But he told the inquiry that he did not recall being briefed about the letter’s contents, the report said, and was “very clear that he didn’t read the detail of the letter.”

The Guardian noticed the Times' relatively tough treatment of Thompson.

The paper's coverage, led by investigative reporter Matthew Purdy, included assessments of Thompson's conduct that are more scathing than anything in the Pollard review.

Lord Chris Patten, chairman of the BBC Trust, which is publishing the report, reacted defensively when challenged by a reporter's question on Thompson, saying at the end of an exchange "I have no reason at all for disbelieving Mark Thompson, alright? Is that an answer?"

The Order-Order web site commented:

Chris Patten’s extraordinary response to Miles Goslett’s question over Mark Thompson’s integrity shows a man on the verge of cracking under the pressure. Why did Thompson say he had never heard any allegations against Jimmy Savile if he signed off the crucial Sunday Times letter threatening legal action for the suggestion he did? And why wouldn’t Patten be drawn on the subject? The Pollard Report found that “it is clear that Mr Thompson did approve the sending of the letter”, putting the New York Times CEO, and his massive BBC pension, in an awkward position to say the least. The contempt Patten clearly holds for the hack who blew the whole story open is very telling…