Times Co. Chief Executive Testifies at Closed-Door Inquiry on BBC Scandal

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

Mr. Thompson was the director general of the BBC in December 2011, when the corporation's flagship "Newsnight" current affairs program canceled an investigation into accusations of abuse against the television host Jimmy Savile who had died two months earlier at the age of 84. Mr. Thompson assumed his new post at The New York Times on Nov. 12.

Robert Christie, a senior vice president of corporate communications for The New York Times Company, confirmed in an e-mail that Mr. Thompson had appeared on Friday before a BBC-appointed inquiry in London led by Nick Pollard, the former head of Sky News, a commercial channel that is controlled by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation. Mr. Christie's e-mail, in response to an inquiry after The Guardian newspaper reported that Mr. Thompson was testifying, gave no detail of his statements to the inquiry, nor any other details. Mr. Thompson responded to a request for a statement on his testimony with an e-mail confirming that he testified but giving no details.

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 while he was still the BBC chief included a summary of the abuse accusations against Mr. Savile, raising questions about Mr. Thompson's assertions that he learned the specifics of the accusations only after leaving the BBC. He has not commented on the letter.

As scandals over botched reporting into sexual abuse have roiled the BBC in recent weeks, the BBC, Britain's public broadcaster, has set up several inquiries, including the one led by Mr. Pollard, who worked early on in his career as a reporter for the BBC before switching to commercial broadcasting, first at ITN News and then at Sky News.

Mr. Pollard is looking into the reasons BBC managers canceled a "Newsnight" segment that would have set out the allegations against Mr. Savile, including allegations that he abused underage girls who were 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 Mr. 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 Mr. Savile has 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 pending the outcome of the inquiry.

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

The Pollard inquiry does not hold public sessions, and issues no statements that reveal who has testified, or what the issues covered were. Earlier on Friday it announced in an e-mailed statement that its findings, originally due by the end of November, would be delayed by a month until mid-December.

"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," the e-mail quoted Mr. Pollard as saying, " I have informed the BBC that I now expect to provide my report to the BBC by mid-December."

John F. Burns reported from London and Alan Cowell from Paris.


This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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