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LONDON — Former BBC director general Mark Thompson has contradicted comments from the head of the U.K. public broadcaster’s governing body about severance payments that exceeded contractual obligations.
Thompson, now CEO of The New York Times Co., said he “fully informed” the governing body, the BBC Trust and its chairman, Chris Patten, of all proposed severance deals in advance. Earlier in the week, Patten had told the public accounts committee of the British parliament’s House of Commons that he wasn’t aware of payouts that exceeded contractual promises until a recent report was presented by a finance watchdog.
Thompson, set to be questioned by the parliamentary committee in November, said that he had “made sure that the trust were aware of, and understood, all potentially contentious issues” and had been sent a “detailed analysis of the value-for-money case” of layoffs in cases where higher severance was offered due to such issues as a lack of proper advance notice, The Guardian quoted from a statement. Thompson also said that he was “looking forward to laying the facts in front of the public accounts committee in person.”
Patten said this week that he had assumed and had been told by Thompson that two high-level executive departures came with contractual severance terms. He described his reaction as a mix of “shock and dismay” when he found out how many payouts had been going beyond contractual terms. He defended the Trust, saying it doesn’t have formal power over severance decisions.
According to The Guardian, Thompson’s office e-mailed a BBC Trust director in 2010, highlighting that in the cases of the departures of the two top executives in question, the broadcaster would make “maximum payments” before their positions were officially cut later.
A spokeswoman for the BBC Trust said that e-mail predated Patten’s tenure as chairman. “It did not contain a breakdown of the payments themselves, and no reasonable reading of this correspondence would have concluded that it indicates these individuals were to be given excessive pay in lieu of notice,” she added.
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