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Mark Thompson (media executive)

Mark Thompson
Mark Thompson at the Monaco Media Forum in 2008
CEO New York Times Company
Assumed office
November 2012
Preceded by Janet L. Robinson
14th Director-General of the BBC
In office
22 June 2004 – 17 September 2012
Deputy Mark Byford
Preceded by Mark Byford (acting)
Succeeded by George Entwistle
Personal details
Born Mark John Thompson
(1957-07-31) 31 July 1957
London, England
Nationality British
Spouse(s) Jane Blumberg
Alma mater Merton College, Oxford
Religion Roman Catholic

Mark John Thompson[1] (born 31 July 1957)[2] is a British media executive and current CEO of the New York Times Company. A former chief executive of Channel 4, he is best known as Director-General of the BBC from 2004 to 2012.


  • Early life 1
  • BBC 2
    • Appointment as Director-General 2.1
    • Editorial guideline breaches 2.2
    • Controversy 2.3
      • Programme production 2.3.1
      • Jerry Springer: The Opera 2.3.2
      • Accusations of Pro-Israeli editorial stance 2.3.3
      • Nick Griffin 2.3.4
      • Formula One broadcast rights 2.3.5
      • Earnings 2.3.6
      • Criticism by Robert Winston 2.3.7
  • The New York Times Company 3
  • Ranking 4
  • Broadcasting career 5
  • Personal life 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Early life

Thompson was born in London and brought up in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire,[3] by his mother, Sydney Corduff, his sister, Katherine, and father, Duncan John Thompson. He was educated by Jesuits at the independent school Stonyhurst College, and from there went up to Merton College, Oxford, where he took a first in English.[2] He edited the university magazine Isis.[4]


Appointment as Director-General

Thompson in April 2005.

Thompson was appointed Director-General on 21 May 2004.[5] He succeeded Greg Dyke, who resigned on 29 January 2004 in the aftermath of the Hutton Inquiry. Although he had originally stated he was not interested in the role of Director-General and would turn down any approach from the BBC, he changed his mind, saying the job was a "one-of-a-kind opportunity". The decision to appoint Thompson Director-General was made unanimously by the BBC Board of Governors, headed by the then new Chairman Michael Grade (another former chief executive of Channel 4). His appointment was widely praised: Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell, Shadow Culture Secretary Julie Kirkbride and Greg Dyke were amongst those who supported his selection. He took up the role of Director-General on 22 June 2004[5] (Mark Byford had been Acting Director-General since Dyke's resignation). On his first day he announced several management changes, including the replacement of the BBC's sixteen-person executive committee with a slimmed-down executive board of nine top managers.

Editorial guideline breaches

In 2007 it emerged that the BBC had been involved in a number of editorial guideline breaches. Mark Thompson, as BBC editor-in-chief investigated these breaches, and presented his interim report to the BBC Trust on 18 July 2007.[6] The Trust felt that the BBC’s values of accuracy and honesty had been compromised, and Thompson outlined to the Trust the actions he would take to restore confidence.

Later that day he told BBC staff, via an internal televised message,[7] that deception of the public was never acceptable. He said that he, himself, had never deceived the public – it would never have occurred to him to do so, and that he was sure that the same applied to the "overwhelming majority" of BBC staff. He also spoke on BBC News 24[8] and was interviewed by Gavin Esler for Newsnight. He stated that "from now on, if it [deceiving the public] happens we will show people the door."[9] Staff were emailed on 19 July 2007[10] and later in the year all staff, including the Director-General, undertook a Safeguarding Trust course.[11]

In October 2008, Thompson had to cut short a family holiday to return to Britain to deal with The Russell Brand Show prank telephone calls row. Thompson took the executive decision to suspend the BBC’s highest paid presenter, Jonathan Ross, from all his BBC work for three months without pay. He also said it was the controversial star's last warning.[12] Nevertheless, Thompson reiterated the BBC's commitment to Ross's style of edgy comedy, claiming that "BBC audiences accept that, in comedy, performers attempt to push the line of taste".[13] Thompson had previously defended the star’s conduct and salary in 2006, when he described Ross as “outstanding” and claimed that "the very best people" deserved appropriately high salaries.[14]

In September 2010 Thompson acknowledged some of the BBC's previous political bias he had witnessed early in his career. He stated: "In the BBC I joined 30 years ago there was, in much of current affairs, in terms of people's personal politics, which were quite vocal, a massive bias to the left". He added: "the organisation did struggle then with impartiality",[15] though also suggested that there was now "much less overt tribalism".[16]

In 2010, Thompson was identified as the highest paid employee of any public sector organisation in the UK, earning between £800,000 and £900,000 per year.[17]


Programme production

In late 2007, Thompson's directorship at the BBC was criticised. Sir Richard Eyre, former artistic director of the National Theatre, accused the BBC under Thompson's leadership of failing to produce programmes 'that inspired viewers to visit galleries, museums or theatres'.[18] He was also criticised by Tony Palmer, a multi-award winning filmmaker. Of the BBC, Palmer stated that "[it] has a worldwide reputation which it has abrogated and that's shameful. In the end, the buck stops with Mark Thompson. He is a catastrophe."[19]

Jerry Springer: The Opera

He was criticised by religious groups in relation to the broadcast of Jerry Springer: The Opera, with a private prosecution brought against the BBC for blasphemy. David Pannick QC appeared and won the case. The High Court ruled that the cult musical was not blasphemous, and Pannick stated that Judge Tubbs had "acted within her powers and made the only decision she could lawfully have made; while religious beliefs were integral to British society, so is freedom of expression, especially to matters of social and moral importance."[20]

Accusations of Pro-Israeli editorial stance

A number of commentators have suggested that Thompson has a pro-Israeli editorial stance, particularly since he supported the controversial decision by the BBC not to broadcast the DEC Gaza appeal in January 2009.[21] Complaints to the BBC about the decision, numbering nearly 16,000, were directed to a statement by Thompson.[22] In May 2011, Thompson ordered the lyrics 'free Palestine' in a rap on BBC 1 Extra to be censored.[23] During a meeting of the British Parliament's Culture and Media Committee in June 2012, Thompson also issued an apology for not devoting more coverage to the murders of an Israeli settler family in the West Bank, saying the "network got it wrong" – despite the fact that the incident occurred on the same day as the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami.[24]

Tam Dean Burn wrote in The Herald: "I would argue that this bias has moved on apace since Thompson went to Israel in 2005 and signed a deal with prime minister Ariel Sharon on the BBC's coverage of the conflict."[25]

Nick Griffin

In October 2009, Thompson defended the decision by the BBC to invite [26]

Formula One broadcast rights

Thompson in 2013

Thompson was Director General of the BBC when on 29 July 2011 it was announced that the Corporation would no longer televise all Formula One Grand Prix live, instead agreeing to split the broadcast between the BBC and Sky Sports. This prompted an outcry from several thousand fans and a motion on the UK Government e-petition site. On 2 September 2011, Thompson and several "senior BBC figures" were called upon by the House of Commons to answer questions over the exact nature of the broadcast arrangement.[27]


In January 2010, Thompson was criticised over his £834,000 salary. The BBC presenter Stephen Sackur told him "there are huge numbers of people in the organisation who think your salary is plain wrong and corrosive."[28]

Criticism by Robert Winston

In October 2012, the fertility expert Robert Winston, who presented the BAFTA award-winning series The Human Body, said: "I don't think Mark Thompson has led well from the top. It's not just my perception. Many of the scientific community feel very, very uneasy, and the news people clearly do." Winston had previously accused Mark Thompson of "cowardice" and a lack of "spine" in its leadership, over a controversial trailer which included misleading footage of the Queen.[29]

The New York Times Company

On 14 August 2012, he was named CEO of The New York Times Company, effective November 2012.[30]


In 2009 Thompson was ranked as the 65th most powerful person in the world by Forbes magazine.[31]

Broadcasting career

He first joined the BBC as a production trainee in 1979. His subsequent career within the organisation has been varied, including:

  • 1981 – assisted launching long-running consumer programme Watchdog
  • 1983 – assisted launching Breakfast Time
  • 1985 – Output Editor, Newsnight
  • 1988 – Editor, Nine O'Clock News (at the age of 30)
  • 1990 – Editor, Panorama
  • 1992 – Head of Features
  • 1994 – Head of Factual Programmes
  • 1996 – Controller, BBC Two
  • 1999 – Director, National and Regional Broadcasting
  • 2000 – became BBC Director of Television, but left the corporation in March 2002 to become Chief Executive of Channel 4.
  • 2002 – Thompson joined the board of trustees of Media Trust,[32] the UK's leading communications charity.
  • 2004 – 2012 Director General of the BBC

Personal life

Thompson is a Roman Catholic, and attends the Oratory Church of St Aloysius Gonzaga. In 2010, The Tablet named him as one of Britain’s most influential Roman Catholics.[33] Thompson lives in Oxford with his wife Jane Blumberg (daughter of Baruch Samuel Blumberg) whom he married in 1987. They have two sons and one daughter.[4]

In 2011, Thompson was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by Edge Hill University.[34]

He is a member of the Reform Club[2] and a patron of the Art Room charity in Oxford.[35]

He was a guest in the Royal Box at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee concert in June 2012.[36]

In 2012, Thompson served as the first Humanitas Visiting Professor in Rhetoric and the Art of Public Persuasion at the University of Oxford.[37]


Specific citations:

  1. ^ "Mark Thompson, Esq Authorised Biography – Debrett’s People of Today, Mark Thompson, Esq Profile". 31 July 1957. Retrieved 10 May 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c “THOMPSON, Mark John Thompson,” in Who's Who 2009 (London: A & C Black, 2008); online ed., (Oxford: OUP, 2008), [2]. Retrieved 25 January 2009.
  3. ^ Arlidge, John (16 December 2001). "The Observer Profile". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 12 May 2010. 
  4. ^ a b "NS Profile – Mark Thompson". New Statesman. 3 May 2004. Retrieved 27 January 2009. 
  5. ^ a b "BBC Press Office: Biographies – Mark Thompson". Retrieved 12 October 2007. 
  6. ^ "Minutes of Trust meeting 18 July 2007" (PDF). Retrieved 10 May 2012. 
  7. ^ "Key points: Thompson speech to staff on editorial breaches". BBC News. 18 July 2007. Retrieved 10 May 2012. 
  8. ^ "News 24 interview on editorial guideline breaches (video)". BBC News. 18 July 2007. Retrieved 10 May 2012. 
  9. ^ "Transcript of Newsnight interview on editorial breaches and staff honesty". 18 July 2007. Retrieved 10 May 2012. 
  10. ^ "Email from Mark Thompson to BBC staff on integrity". BBC. 19 July 2007. Retrieved 10 May 2012. 
  11. ^ BBC to teach its stars honesty The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 8 March 2008
  12. ^ "Ross suspended for three months". BBC News. 30 October 2008. Retrieved 10 May 2012. 
  13. ^ Russell Brand programme, BBC Radio 2, 18 October 2008
  14. ^ "BBC defends Ross pay and conduct". BBC News. 7 July 2006. Retrieved 10 May 2012. 
  15. ^ Singh, Anita (2 September 2010). "BBC was biased against Thatcher, admits Mark Thompson". The Daily Telegraph (London). 
  16. ^ Revoir, Paul (2 September 2010). "Yes, BBC was biased: Director General Mark Thompson admits a 'massive' lean to Left". Daily Mail (London). 
  17. ^ Public Sector pay: The numbers BBC News, 20 September 2010
  18. ^ Asthana, Anushka. "'"The Guardian: Arts chief warns of cultural 'apartheid. London. Retrieved 12 September 2007. 
  19. ^ Smith, David. "'"The Guardian: Director blasts 'BBC ignorance. London. Retrieved 12 September 2007. 
  20. ^ Paris, Natalie (5 December 2007). "Jerry Springer play ruled not blasphemous". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 15 August 2012. 
  21. ^ "Mark Thompson's Blog". 
  22. ^ "BBC and the Gaza appeal". 
  23. ^ "BBC under fire for 'censoring' Palestine lyric". 
  24. ^ "BBC apologises for minimal coverage of Fogel murders". 
  25. ^ "To my mind and, it appears, to millions of others, the BBC is increasingly biased towards Israel in this conflict, Heraldscotland staff". The Herald. Glasgow. 1 February 2009. Retrieved 10 May 2012. 
  26. ^ Booth, Robert (22 October 2009). "BBC is right to allow BNP on Question Time, says Mark Thompson". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 12 May 2010. 
  27. ^ Autosport. 2 September 2011 
  28. ^ Wardrop, Murray (15 January 2010). Your salary is wrong and corrosive', Mark Thompson , BBC director general, told"'". The Telegraph (London). Retrieved 19 July 2010. 
  29. ^ Collins, Nick (30 October 2012). "Robert Winston: BBC is dumbing down science". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 31 October 2012. 
  30. ^ "Mark Thompson named CEO of New York Times Co.". Boston Globe. Retrieved 2012-08-14. 
  31. ^ "The World's Most Powerful People". Forbes. 11 November 2009. Retrieved 12 November 2009. 
  32. ^ "Media Trust website". 
  33. ^ "The Tablet's Top 100". 
  34. ^
  35. ^ "The Art Room". The Art Room. Retrieved 10 May 2012. 
  36. ^ Daily Mail 5 June 2012
  37. ^ Plunkett, John (5 November 2012). "Mark Thompson (Media),Oxford University,Media,BBC,Jimmy Savile (Media),UK news,New York Times (Media)". The Guardian (London). 

Other references:

  • Channel 4 boss lands BBC top job (BBC)
  • New BBC boss announces shake-up (BBC)
  • Thompson "to transform BBC" (BBC)
  • Will Thompson be toast over the day he bit a BBC colleague? (Guardian)
  • BBC boss sank teeth into his newsroom colleague (Telegraph)
  • Biting comment over job cuts at the BBC (Times)
  • Thompson welcomes strike suspension (BBC)
  • BBC Resources sell-off delayed (Press Gazette)
  • Thompson sells BBC Broadcast – which becomes Red Bee Media (BBC)
  • Thompson flogs Books – to Random House (BBC)
  • BBC changes mark a digital future (BBC)
  • Creative Future and Looney Tunes (Guardian)
  • Media Trust

External links

  • About the BBC: Mark Thompson (BBC biography – includes salary and expenses data)
  • Mark Thompson's blog (BBC)
Media offices
Preceded by
Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Jr.
CEO of The New York Times Company (effective November 2012)
Preceded by
Mark Byford
Director-General of the BBC
Succeeded by
George Entwistle
Preceded by
Michael Jackson
Chief Executive of Channel 4
Succeeded by
Andy Duncan
Preceded by
Michael Jackson
Controller of BBC Two
Succeeded by
Jane Root
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