Mark Thompson replies to my blog

A spokeman for Mark Thompson has now told me:

‘Mark will not be making any statement on this issue other than to reinforce what was said to the Sunday Times, namely that he verbally agreed to the tactic of sending a legal letter to the paper, but was not involved in its drafting, nor was he aware of the detail beyond the central and false allegation put to the BBC that he had influenced the decision to abandon Newsnight’s investigation into Jimmy Savile. Such legal letters are a common occurrence at the BBC and Mark would invariably follow the advice of the legal and press teams. As Mark has repeatedly made clear, he was not aware of the allegations against Jimmy Savile until the pre-publicity ahead of the ITV documentary’.

I’m grateful that Mark has responded. I note that his spokesman:

1. Does not dispute that a letter from a solicitor representing him was sent to the Sunday Times threatening legal action if they published.

2.Does not dispute that the email from the Sunday Times referred to assaults on BBC premises.

3.Does not dispute that the reply from the solicitors representing him referred to BBC premises.

Readers will draw their own conclusion from the revelation that a  letter threatening personal,not corporate,legal action on behalf of the the Director-General of the BBC would  be sent to one of the UK’s leading newspapers as a ‘tactic’ without the DG being aware of the full detail.

Should there be any doubt about whether Mark Thompson was still  DG when the Mills and Reeve letter was sent on September 6th,the letter specifically refers to him as DG and  when, ten days later, Mark Thompson appeared on the Andrew Marr Show on BBC1 on 16th September  that day,the 16th, was described in the programme-and in the report on the BBC website- as ‘ his last day as director general of the BBC’. Source:

The reply also raises the question of who was paying Mills and Reeve to act for Thompson and Boaden. The spokesman says ‘such legal letters are a common occurrence at the BBC and Mark would invariably follow the advice of the legal and press teams’. But the Mills and Reeve letter ( see the extract in last week’s Sunday Times) says ‘Dear Sirs,BBC Newsnight.We act for Helen Boaden,Director of BBC News Group and Mark Thompson,Director-General of the BBC’. The letter doesnt say Mills and Reeve act for the BBC itself.

. Helen Boaden has not yet taken up my invitation to respond to the blog.



8 thoughts on “Mark Thompson replies to my blog

  1. Pingback: Mark Thompson, the legal letter, and the Savile investigation | Media law and ethics

  2. I am extremely confused here.

    Mark Thompson: “I did not know at the time or for the remainder of my period in office whether the Newsnight Savile investigation included allegations related to the BBC”

    Knowing now what Prof Purvis has posted, let me just imagine myself in Mark Thompson’s shoes for a moment. Let’s imagine I’m head of BBC. One day the lawyers come and tell me that a top newspaper is going claim that I helped stop our top investigative program from running a story about one of our top celebrities. I tell the lawyers to go ahead and sue the newspaper. I do not go and find out what the investigative journalists were doing, what their story was about, why they didn’t broadcast it, and why someone would care whether I was involved in stopping the story. I simply dont ask any of those questions.

    This doesnt make sense to me. Can anyone come up with a thought-process for Mark Thompson in this period that does make sense?

  3. And from the same piece …… do you cry, laugh, pray, or all three? Or just give up in despair?

    That’s nearly £1M + all the employers costs worth of responsibility and leadership, and that’s before you get to Newsnight’s own editorial leadership, management and responsibility.

    Quite how any of them can be held responsible being so remote from the overall empire of 8000+ content producers, overseeing ‘UK-wide network news and the BBC’s global news division’ with ‘responsibility for the BBC’s 12 English Regions’ is unclear.

    Executives in the BBC news department have included Helen Boaden, who earns £354,000 a year to take ‘overall editorial responsibility’; Stephen Mitchell, on £203,000 to take ‘managerial and editorial responsibility’; David Jordan, paid £174,000 to ‘produce editorial guidelines’; Sue Inglish, earning £141,000 to take ‘managerial responsibility for political news’ and Mary Hockaday, the Head of Newsroom in charge of ‘editorial leadership’.

    Midweek presenter Miss Purves ……. wrote in The Times: ‘Tell the smug mandarins of the news departments to shape up, pay attention, and do their jobs with decision, perceptiveness, openness and generosity – or go away.

    ‘We need some pretty senior firings in the executive and legal layers. In both recent scandals the evidence of sly, uncommunicative, nervously arrogant incompetence is simply too strong to ignore.’

    Within hours, the new man leading the BBC, Tim Davie, issued a jargon-infested statement promising to be ‘visible and available’. He described a process by which he ‘will transition’ to his new job of boss of BBC Worldwide after the corporation appoints a new DG.

  4. I’ve just seen this from that organ of record the Daily Mail pub Nov 12rth. What’s the word for backward looking prescience? incidentally Ms Boaden’s Beeb profile photo clearly is a tad out of date.

    Robert Peston, the BBC’s business editor, revealed in his blog yesterday that ‘lawyers acting for Ms Boaden and Mr Mitchell have informed Mr Davie that they are quite capable of running BBC News, even with the uncertainty created by the Pollard inquiry’.

    It has also emerged that Miss Boaden may be on the brink of leaving the broadcaster after she was forced to ‘step aside’ yesterday.

    If she does leave the BBC, she is likely to demand a huge compensation payment. She had already engaged lawyers to help answer Mr Pollard’s questions.

    Insiders have accused senior executives of trying to ‘stitch up’ Miss Boaden and force her out of the corporation after the departure of director general George Entwistle.

    Read more:
    Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook

  5. Helen Boaden is on a sufficiently enhanced package (see ) to suggest that any ‘lawyering’ needed is well within her resources.

    She may not though have prioritised your invitation that is probably with our learned friends. In the shark infested waters of Beeb management, Ofgem / Offtrack / OfCon inquiries, Beeb inquiroes, and everyone else, she is likely concentrating on survival, or negotiating a golden goodbye.

  6. At the risk of muddying waters it is not unknown for corporates to pick up the tab for individual executives and other important employees ‘lawyering’

    The Murdoch empire has done so, even well beyond an individual’s employment as part of a settlement. ‘In September 2011 Mr Coulson’s lawyers filed papers at the High Court against News International subsidiary News Group Newspapers. This marked the start of his legal action against his ex-employer, after it stopped paying his legal fees in relation to the phone-hacking scandal.’ That was over 4 and a half years after leaving NI.

    Why they should do so, even as part of a generous pay and benefits package, is perhaps to ensure the interests of the corporation remain protected. Clearly there might well arise a conflict of interest between the individual and the corporation if they were represented by the same lawyer(s) in-house or out-house(d).

    Is it common practice in the state sector? Is it overly generous? If at the Beeb it is a matter solely of individuals own interest, albeit arising from or in connection with their employment, it may be covered by a legal expenses insurance.

  7. John Simpson, in the Telegraph earlier this week, put his finger on a key reason why the BBC has been brought low – the proliferation of middle managers.

    With the help of a compliant board of governors and against a chorus of dissent from staff, John, now Lord, Birt set about creating a blancmange of top heavy, self-serving and ineffective PowerPoint-happy, fluent jargon speaking, licence fee sapping apparatchiks who created a dense fog in which blunders, like the current clutch, could more easily happen. The opportunity for real reform of this great institution was thus wasted.

    But, at the time, Birt had a few champions, not least, a highly respected correspondent whose work epitomised the finest traditions of BBC journalism. Step forward…..John Simpson.

    Clive Lawrence…
    ex-BBC News…

    • Bugbears (bb), perhaps? So (bb1), the language of that jargoned up bureaucracy is no doubt busily moving/going forward (bb2), on a trajectory basis (bb3) that will be an over-arching (bb4) inclusive (bb5) and diverse (bb6) meeting event (bb7) ………. 7 in one sentence that hasn’t ended – I’m a natural 🙂

      The biog of the acting (what is not entirely clear, though re-establishing within weeks the single editorial management for Newsnight if nothing else suggests Entwhistle got that badly wrong) Newsnight editor isn’t promising – at least not in the language.

      Who ‘Karen O’Connor’ you might well ask. In the deathless newspeak of the bureaucracy she is Head of London Factual Production and is responsible for ‘its content, its people and its ideas – and aims to drive quality and innovation in content and across platforms.’

      So that’s clear, though one might think that the people were responsible for the ideas unless she does all their thinking for them as well. The objectives seem rather weak – making the best programmes possible might be the highest aim – and quality and innovation inherent in all of them.

      She has had previous editorial experience as ‘Deputy Editor on Panorama and Newsnight and Editor of the international documentary strands Correspondent and This World.’ Well, at least that should come in handy.

      That Entwhistle decision, to have 2 authorisation channels in BBC TV News to provide separation between “business as usual” stories and “Savile-related” stories, and have a ‘separate editorial chain of command was established for all Savile-related material,’ was clearly the wrong one.

      As to the rest of the BBC’s announcement Nov 12th – it isn’t usual for a non-executive director of any board in my experience to have an overseeing responsibility. Journalistic qualities are not needed – it’s acute political and other antenae to navigate the shoals for the top management, and be sufficiently involved to apply sanity tests. That is not an non-execs role, which is to subject the exec directors to scrutiny, and bring a wider and fuller range of experience to bear on the more strategic questions. Of course the BBC board is singular, as is the Trust.

      1. To address the lack of clarity around the senior editorial chain of command, a decision has been taken to re-establish a single management to deal with all output, Savile related or otherwise, as announced earlier today.

      2. To address the pressure on the Newsnight team Karen O’Connor has agreed to take on the role of Acting Editor of Newsnight.

      4. We will as a matter of urgency fill the current vacancy for a Non-Executive Director of the BBC with a senior external figure with a proven track record of overseeing journalism.

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