New chief of NY Times testifies in BBC scandal inquiry

LONDON — Mark Thompson, the president and chief executive of The New York Times Co., testified Friday in a closed-door inquiry investigating why the British Broadcasting Corp. canceled a contentious report into sexual abuse, a Times spokesman said.

Thompson was the director general of the BBC in December, when the corporation’s flagship ‘‘Newsnight’’ current affairs program canceled an investigation into accusations of abuse against television host Jimmy Savile, who had died two months earlier at the age of 84. Thompson assumed his new post at the Times on Nov. 12.

Robert Christie, a senior vice president of corporate communications for The New York Times Co., confirmed in an e-mail that Thompson had appeared Friday before a BBC-appointed inquiry in London led by Nick Pollard, the former head of Sky News, a commercial channel controlled by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. Christie’s e-mail, in response to an inquiry after The Guardian newspaper reported that Thompson was testifying, gave no detail of his statements to the inquiry, nor any other details. Thompson could not be reached in London.


His testimony followed the disclosure earlier this month that a legal letter sent on his behalf by BBC lawyers to The Sunday Times of London included a summary of the abuse accusations against Savile, raising questions about Thompson’s assertions that he learned the specifics of the accusations only after leaving the BBC. He has not commented on the letter.

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As scandals over botched reporting into sexual abuse have roiled the BBC in recent weeks, Britain’s public broadcaster has set up several inquiries, including the one led by Pollard, who worked early on in his career as a reporter for the BBC.

Pollard is looking into the reasons BBC managers canceled a ‘‘Newsnight’’ segment that would have set out the allegations against Savile, including accusations that he abused underage girls participating in his shows on BBC premises during the decades when he was one of Britain’s most popular television performers.

Shortly after the cancellation, the BBC broadcast several tribute programs to Savile as part of its 2011 Christmas schedule. ‘‘Newsnight’’ staff members were told by the program’s editor at the time of the cancellation that the allegations against Savile had not been adequately substantiated, but questions have been raised about the role played in the cancellation by more senior BBC executives, some of whom have been suspended.

Earlier this month, ‘‘Newsnight’’ went on to falsely implicate a former Conservative politician in a child abuse scandal, deepening a crisis that forced Thompson’s successor as the BBC’s director general, George Entwistle, to resign 12 days ago, after less than eight weeks on the job. On Thursday, the BBC announced that Entwistle will be replaced by Tony Hall, the Royal Opera House’s CEO.


The Pollard inquiry issues no statements that reveal who has testified, or what the issues covered were. Earlier Friday it announced in an e-mailed statement that its findings, originally due by the end of ­November, will be delayed.

‘‘Taking into account the need for a thorough and fair process, the further interviews planned, the need to consider additional documents, and the time required for report preparation,’’ Pollard wrote, ‘‘I have informed the BBC that I now expect to provide my report to the BBC by mid-December.’’