The turmoil over the sexual abuse continues to roil the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). The latest turn forced Mark Thompson, the newly installed CEO of The New York Times and himself a BBC director-general until September, to wing his way back to England to testify about what he knew and when he knew of the developing scandal.
Thompson assumed that he’d only have to spend a few hours before the BBC inquiry headed by Nick Pollard, but due to the in-depth investigation the Pollard committee is conducting, Thompson may have to appear again. At this time there is no telling how long the inquiry will detain Thompson for questioning.
Thompson will be questioned by inquiry counsel Alan Maclean QC over the mishandling of the cancellation of a Newsnight TV segment that would have been aired last year featuring an in-depth investigation into the developing abuse accusations lodged against one of the BBC’s most famous TV stars, Jimmy Savile.
Savile, who died last year, has been accused of sexual abuse by hundreds of women many of whom were teens back in the 1960s, 70s and 80s when Savile is said to have abused them. The BBC itself is coming under criticism for having spent those same years covering up Savile’s abuses.
Specifically, Mark Thompson, the BBC head until this past September, is being questioned on what he knew of the cancellation of the Newsnight program as well as what he knew of Savile’s sexual liaisons.
The concern for the BBC is whether, even as late as last year, the network was trying to cover up Savile’s crimes and whether Thompson had a hand in canceling the investigation that would have blown the story wide open on the BBC.
For his part, Mark Thompson claims he knew nothing about his own network’s cancellation of the Savile investigation nor did he know of any accusations of sexual abuse against the flamboyant TV star.
The inquiry is similar in nature to the Hutton inquiry, another BBC scandal that in 2004 ended in the resignation for incompetence of then BBC head man Greg Dyke. In fact, inquiry counsel Alan Maclean was also a part of the Hutton inquiry in 2004.
For years the BBC has been rocked by incompetence and scandal in its director-general’s office. Of the last four directors general of the BBC, two resigned in disgrace and one left under a cloud of suspicion. The fourth, newly appointed, will take his place next year.
As mentioned above, Greg Dyke resigned as a result of the Hutton inquiry, but only a few weeks ago, George Entwistle — who was Thompson’s replacement — resigned after only 54 days on the job. Entwistle resigned over another scandalous program that claimed a former official in the Margaret Thatcher administration sexual abused teen boys in the 1960s. The claims ended up being completely false and the TV program badly sourced and produced.
Mark Thompson will be the third BBC chief in a row whose tenure ended under a dark cloud.
Only weeks ago, Mark Thompson took his place as the new CEO of The New York Times. One cannot escape wondering how well he’ll handle the job of leading America’s “paper of record” with the scandals he is running away from in London.
There are already questions about Thompson’s veracity. When he interviewed with the newspaper he claimed he knew nothing about the Savile scandal but new documents, some of which he is now testifying about in London, seem to prove otherwise.