Parliament Hearing to Focus on BBC Severance Dispute

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LONDON -- An increasingly bitter dispute between Chris Patten, the head of the BBC Trust, and Mark Thompson, the former director-general of the BBC, will get a public airing on Monday before a committee of the British Parliament.

Mr. Thompson, who left the BBC in 2012 and is now the president and chief executive officer of The New York Times, has challenged July testimony by Mr. Patten about how much the trust was told about a series of large severance payments to executives who left the corporation in an effort to reduce costs.

In a 25-page witness statement submitted to Parliament on Friday, Mr. Thompson has accused the trust, which represents the interests of ordinary Britons who pay an annual television fee that goes to the BBC, of misleading the committee and the National Audit Office.

In July, Mr. Patten expressed surprise at the details of important severance payments, which were larger than contractually mandated, according to the auditors, while Mr. Thompson insisted that the trust was fully informed and raised no objections. In particular, Mr. Thompson's deputy, Mark Byford, was given a full year's salary in lieu of notice despite having worked another eight months when the deputy's job was eliminated.

One of the documents Mr. Thompson has presented is a briefing memo prepared for Mr. Patten explaining the payments, which were approved before Mr. Patten became chairman of the trust. He said that Mr. Patten's testimony in July was "fundamentally misleading about the extent of trust knowledge and involvement."

In a statement, the trust called Mr. Thompson's submission "a bizarre document," said "we completely disagree with Mark Thompson's analysis," and said that Mr. Patten and Anthony Fry, a trustee, had not misled Parliament. Mr. Patten had not had "a full and formal briefing on the exact terms of Mark Byford's departure," the trust said.

Mr. Patten has come under considerable criticism for the large severance given to Mr. Thompson's successor, George Entwistle, who lasted only 54 days in the job. He resigned in November over a reporting scandal, but was given a full year's salary in addition to a normal severance payment. The furor over that package has made the earlier payments more politically sensitive.

Both Mr. Thompson and Mr. Patten will appear before the Public Accounts Committee on Monday.

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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