Joe Utichi contributes to Deadline’s UK coverage
Just four days into his new job as CEO of The New York Times Company, Mark Thompson is again the subject of an article in its flagship newspaper. A story published today by The New York Times says a new piece of information “raises questions” about assertions Thompson has made with regard to when he learned of allegations of sexual abuse against late BBC host Jimmy Savile. Thompson told the NYT in October, “During my time as director general of the BBC, I never heard any allegations or received any complaints about Jimmy Savile.” He has also maintained that he knew nothing of a cancelled investigation by the BBC‘s flagship current affairs program Newsnight into the claims against Savile. But the NYT reports today that a letter sent by lawyers eight days before Thompson left the BBC in September reveals he was involved in “aggressive” legal action pertaining to the Savile story. The letter, sent on behalf of Thompson and news chief Helen Boaden, threatened Rupert Murdoch’s Sunday Times newspaper with “defamation proceedings” if it were to publish an article alleging the pair had orchestrated a cover-up over the scuppered Newsnight broadcast.
The NYT, which has closely scrutinized Thompson’s role in the saga, says the letter has been revealed to include a summary of the abuse alleged against Savile, and the fact that some of the abuse was alleged to have taken place on BBC premises. A Thompson aide told the NYT that Thompson orally authorized the sending of the letter but did not know the details of its contents. “It’s not clear if he was shown it,” the aide said, “but he doesn’t remember reading it.”
British MP Rob Wilson described the circumstances of the letter as “strange” and called on Nick Pollard, who is heading the BBC’s inquiry into the Newsnight affair, to investigate. “I am concerned Mark Thompson’s legal representatives were writing to the Sunday Times on September 6, specifically about the Savile allegations, yet the former director general apparently did not have any real knowledge of those allegations,” he said.