October 23, 2012 · 2 Comments
By Keith J. Kelly:
A burgeoning molestation scandal across the pond may have New York Times Chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. wishing he had looked closer to home to fill the CEO spot.
Mark Thompson, the former head of the British Broadcasting Corp., is slated to take over the troubled broadsheet next month, but cover-up allegations are swirling about his role in an investigation into a popular television personality.
The scandal involves a TV host named Jimmy Savile, a 40-year employee of the BBC on radio and on TV with an English version of “Bandstand” called “Top of the Pops.”
The flamboyant Savile also hosted a weekly primetime TV show called “Jim’ll Fix It,” on which he made the wishes of many young viewers come true by using his celebrity to get donations.
Savile, who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 1972, passed away in October 2011 at the age of 84, and as part of its holiday schedule the BBC scheduled retrospectives on his life and the tens of millions of pounds he collected for charity over the years.
But since his death, more than 20 people, all under the age of 16 at the time of the crimes, have alerted British police that they were molested by Savile.
On Friday, Scotland Yard said it was following more than 400 leads with at least 200 potential pedophile victims. Some girls were as young as 13 when attacked by Savile.
Now the BBC is under fire for an alleged cover-up — both for possibly ignoring early warnings of Savile’s behavior, as well as cancelling a critical documentary about Savile after his death.
The documentary was scheduled to run on “Newsnight,” Britain’s top news show. It was scrapped for editorial reasons, according to Thompson.
“Thompson spoke to the British press and said it was a News Department decision to squash the story, and he was not in the loop — which a subsequent BBC press release apparently partially contradicted,” said Evercore Partners’ Douglas Arthur, who covers the Times.
“It may blow over unless Thompson is called to testify, should Parliament hold hearings. I believe the prime minister has called for a full investigation. So it’s unclear how this unfolds,” he said.
BBC Chairman Lord Christopher Patten has said publicly that Thompson was one of the top BBC execs who knew of the production and its focus.
“If there is any hint of irregularity, it could be, at the least, an embarrassment for Arthur Sulzberger,” said Edward Atorino, an analyst who follows the company for the Benchmark Co.
Atorino added, “I thought it was odd that he went overseas and got someone from the BBC to run The New York Times.”
Sulzberger may have to answer questions on this topic Thursday, when the company releases its quarterly results.
Thompson has enough business-related headaches here when he hits the ground. The Times is facing growing unrest from the Newspaper Guild over labor talks, which have been going so badly there was a temporary walkout of the union 10 days ago.
He will also have to battle the balance sheet of the New York Times Co., with numbers that have been moving in the wrong direction over the last few years.
Of the British scandal, Thompson has said that, under his leadership since May 2004, “I never heard any allegations or received any complaints about Jimmy Savile.”
Thompson has also stated he had nothing to do with the canceling of the TV production.
“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 told the Times. “I have no reason to doubt the public statement by the program’s editor — that the decision not to pursue the investigation was entirely his, and that it was made solely for journalistic reasons.”