* Colleagues at NY Times "supportive", Thompson says
* BBC rocked by accusations of abuse by former TV host
* NY Times public editor questions if Thompson fit for job
(Adds further quotes)
By Kate Holton
LONDON, Oct 24 Incoming New York Times chief
Mark Thompson told Reuters on Wednesday his U.S. employer had
given him full support since a sexual abuse scandal erupted at
Britain's BBC where he had been in charge until last month.
His handling of the matter at the British Broadcasting
Corporation should not prevent him from starting his new job in
November as planned, he said in a telephone interview from New
"All of my colleagues here in the management team of the New
York Times have been very supportive on this and more broadly as
I prepare to take on the job," he said. "I've been very well
supported as the incoming CEO of this company."
The BBC has been rocked by accusations of sexual abuse
involving a former TV host, the late Jimmy Savile, and claims it
had covered up his alleged crimes and dropped its own news
expose while Thompson was in charge.
The furore prompted Margaret Sullivan, public editor of the
New York Times, to question whether Thompson was now fit
to take up the role of president and chief executive of the
respected American company on Nov. 12 as planned.
Thompson said he did not know about the nature of the
investigation by the BBC's flagship Newsnight programme into
Savile, one of the broadcaster's best known stars for decades,
and had had no involvement in the decision to axe the report.
He said he had had a "chance meeting" with a journalist who
mentioned the Newsnight investigation into Savile, but said he
had not been told any of the details or the scale of the
"I do not believe there is anything that I've done in
relation to this matter which should in any way impinge on my
abilities to fully discharge the responsibilities I'll have at
the New York Times," he said.
Thompson said he had approached his new employers to explain
his role at the BBC and why he had not dealt with such an issue,
despite being the director general and editor in chief of the
Under the structure of the corporation, such editorial
matters would be dealt with by the BBC News division and would
not normally reach the corporate level, he explained.
The BBC is a sprawling organisation with 22,000 employees
working at its eight national TV channels, 50 radio stations and
an extensive website.
"Not knowing what they (Newsnight) had, it's very hard to
judge whether it should have been referred (to me) or not," he
NOT YET MET WITH NY TIMES BOARD
Thompson said he had not yet met with the board of the New
York Times but would be happy to do so if they had further
questions. A spokesman for Thompson said the stance taken by
Sullivan was purely editorial and added that he supported
completely the paper's need to cover the story.
"I've had many many conversations with my new employers in
recent weeks and the moment this became an issue I absolutely
wanted to talk to them, so they would understand my perspective
on what has happened," Thompson said.
"The BBC is a very, very big organisation. I don't know how
many investigations it does, it's hundreds or possibly thousands
every year. I was director general of the BBC and I cannot
recall a single Newsnight item ever being referred to me, in 8
The scandal, which erupted this month when a rival
broadcaster ITV showed its own investigation, has thrown the
corporation into disarray and sparked questions over the
handling of the crisis by Thompson and his successor George
The BBC is now facing parliamentary and police
investigations into whether Savile, an eccentric host of the
BBC's legendary "Top of the Pops" music show who died last year
at the age of 84, abused women and girls over six decades.
"The Jimmy Savile affair is a horrible and distressing
business," Thompson said. "The cruelty and the suffering of the
victims, we can only imagine."
In reference to his brief conversation with a journalist
over the Newsnight programme, he added: "I think I may have
understood that we were talking about allegations of a sexual
nature, although I'm not even sure about that.
"But I certainly wasn't aware that it was going to include
very grave allegations about paedophilia or rape or that it
would involve actions which had taken place on BBC premises.
"Had that been made clear to me at that point I would
certainly of wanted to know more and in particular about the
decision making of whether to proceed with the programme."
A NYT spokesman said that Thompson would join the company as
president and CEO the week of Nov. 12.
(Editing by Maria Golovnina)