Arthur Sulzberger Jr. ‘satisfied’ that incoming ‘Times’ chief Mark Thompson not stained by BBC scandal

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Mark Thompson. (Steve Bowbrick)
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On Thursday morning, New York Times Company chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. gave a resounding vote of confidence to Mark Thompson, who will replace him on Nov. 12 as chief executive of the Times Company, a role Sulzberger has filled on an interim basis for nearly the past year.

It was the first time Sulzberger spoke publicly about Thompson since the former BBC chief came under scrutiny in a scandal that has recently enveloped the British Broadcasting Corporation involving the late BBC television-show host Jimmy Savile.

Scotland Yard is investigating claims that Savile sexually abused as many as 300 women and underage girls in the course of his three decades working for the U.K. broadcasting company. And recently, allegations surfaced that the BBC canceled a news documentary on the matter in an attempt to muffle the scandal.

As head of the BBC at the time the program was canceled, some have questioned Thompson's role in the decision. Thompson has said he played no role in the canceling of the program, and Sulzberger's remarks just now, on a third-quarter earnings call for the Times Company, left little doubt of his belief in Thompson's veracity.

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"I'm sure you've read recent reports of a controversy regarding the BBC's decision to cancel a news story investigating allegations of child molestation by one of their talents," Sulzberger said. "Mark has provided a detailed account of the matter, and I am satisfied that he played no role in the cancellation of that segment. ... Our opinion remains that he abides by high ethical standards and is the ideal person to lead our company as we focus our business on digital and global expansion."

No less a personage than the Times' own public editor, Margaret Sullivan, has said the paper needs to conduct a serious investigation into Thompson's suitability for his new role at the Times Company.

In a blog post earlier this week, Sullivan asked: "How likely is it that the Times Company will continue with its plan to bring Mr. Thompson on as chief executive?"

She also called for vigorous reporting on the question of Thompson's involvement in the cancellation of the program.

Sulzberger echoed that sentiment to Times staff ahead of the earnings call.

"We will cover the Savile story with objectivity and rigor," he wrote in a memo. "Mark endorses that completely as do I."

As for the Times Company's third-quarter results, net income tumbled more than 85 percent to $2.26 million from $15.5 million during the same period a year earlier. But circulation revenue continues to grow thanks to the company's paid digital plan, which has now netted a total of roughly 566,000 subscribers—an 11-percent increase since the second quarter—to the online and mobile editions of the Times and its sister paper, The International Herald Tribune.