BBC scandal creates waves for incoming New York Times CEO

Wed Oct 17, 2012 3:48am EDT
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By Jennifer Saba

(Reuters) - The erupting scandal at Britain's public broadcaster, the BBC, over allegations of sexual abuse involving late TV host Jimmy Savile is leading to awkward questions for the New York Times Co's incoming chief executive, Mark Thompson.

The BBC is facing police and parliamentary inquires into whether Savile, the eccentric host of the BBC's legendary "Top of the Pops" music show who died last year at the age of 84, sexually abused a group of women and girls -- some as young as 13 -- over six decades. The probes follow a bombshell report aired earlier this month by rival broadcaster ITV about the allegations.

Former BBC executives admitted there had been rumors about Savile, but dismissed suggestions they had turned a blind eye to the indiscretions of celebrities.

On Sunday, the New York Times former executive editor Bill Keller wrote a column drawing a parallel between Savile and that of Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky, who was recently sentenced to what amounts to life imprisonment for molesting children. "Whether the BBC fell short in its reporting and missed the story or had the story and lacked the nerve, it is a significant embarrassment, compounded by the hard question of why the widespread rumors of Savile's behavior were ignored for so long," Keller wrote.

Thompson spent most of his career at the BBC, rising from trainee in 1979 to roles on popular shows such as "Newsnight" and the "Nine O'Clock News" before being named Director-General, which is considered the most powerful position in the U.K. television industry.

The BBC's flagship "Newsnight" show was working on its own investigation into the Savile allegations last year that was canceled, leading to accusations of a cover up.

The BBC denied it had shelved the show in order to keep the allegations under wraps. It is currently investigating the matter and cooperating with police.

Newsnight's editor, Peter Rippon, said they shelved the program on Savile after public prosecutors dropped their case for lack of evidence.   Continued...

Mark Thompson poses for media on a visit to Media City the company's new northern headquarters in Salford, northern England in this May 10, 2011 file photograph. REUTERS/Nigel Roddis/Files