Former BBC director general Mark Thompson said there is nothing about Savile investigation which would “impede his ability” at new role (Reuters)
Former BBC director general Mark Thompson said there is nothing about Savile investigation which would “impede his ability” at new role (Reuters)

The new chief executive of the New York Times is facing scrutiny from his own staff about how much he knew about the BBC Jimmy Savile scandal during his time as BBC director general.

Mark Thompson, who is due to start his CEO job on 12 November, has already been questioned by the paper's public editor, Margaret Sullivan, over his claims he was "never formally notified" about an abandoned Newsnight investigation into child abuse by Savile.

In a blog post for the NYT, Sullivan called for the paper to question Thompson further about what he knew during his time at the BBC, asking if he was still the right man for the job considering he was "arriving with so much unwanted baggage".

Sullivan asks: "How likely is it that [Thompson] knew nothing?

"A director general of a giant media company is something like a newspaper's publisher. Would a publisher be very likely to know if an investigation of one of its own people on sexual abuse charges had been killed?

"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."

Thompson said he would be prepared to appear before MPs investigating the Savile scandal. He also said he would be happy to help with the corporation's own investigation, led by former Sky News chief Nick Pollard.

The current general director of the BBC, George Entwistle, has already answered questions from the Culture, Media and Sport select committee into what he knew about why a 2011 Newsnight investigation into Savile was dropped.

The decision to pull that report was taken was taken by Newsnight's editor, Peter Rippon, and is the subject of an independent inquiry.

Rippon has already been forced to step aside from his role while the investigation takes place following revelations his explanation into why the report was dropped had contained "inaccurate or incomplete" information.

Thompson previously said he knew nothing about the Newsnight investigation nor would there be any future revelations that would affect his new role.

"I was not notified or briefed about the Newsnight investigation, nor was I involved in any way in the decision not to complete and air the investigation," he said.

"I have no reason to doubt the public statement by the programme's editor, Peter Rippon, that the decision not to pursue the investigation was entirely his, and that it was made solely for journalistic reasons.

"During my time as director general of the BBC, I never heard any allegations or received any complaints about Jimmy Savile."

Claims debunked

His claims he was not informed about the Newsnight investigation was debunked by an inquiry the Times in London.

A spokesman for Thompson told the Times: "Mark attended a party late last year where a journalist mentioned the fact that Newsnight had been investigating Savile. The journalist said words to the effect that 'You must be worried about the Newsnight investigation'.

"This was the first that Mark had heard about the investigation. The journalist did not go into what Newsnight was investigating. Mark did not respond at the party but did mention the conversation to senior colleagues in BBC News and asked if there was a problem with the investigation.

"He was told that Newsnight had begun an investigation into Savile but had decided to drop it for journalistic reasons. Mark assumed that this meant that the decision not to proceed had been taken by Peter Rippon.

The spokesman said the first time Thompson heard about the child abuse allegations was during the publicity for the ITV documentary which became the first programme to broadcast the accusation 10 months after the dropped Newsnight investigation.

Thompson told the NYT in an interview: "It is my belief that there isn't anything in my participation or my role in this story that would impede my ability to join and work with my colleagues at the New York Times."