Mark Thompson (television executive)
|Mark Thompson at the Monaco Media Forum in 2008.|
|Director-General of the BBC|
22 June 2004
|Preceded by||Mark Byford (acting)|
31 July 1957 |
London, United Kingdom
|Alma mater||Merton College, Oxford|
Mark John Thompson (born 31 July 1957) is Director-General of the BBC, a post he has held since 2004, and a former chief executive of Channel 4. He is the highest paid employee of any public-sector organisation in the UK earning between £800,000 and £900,000 per year.
Thompson was born in London and brought up in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, 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. He edited the university magazine Isis.
Appointment as Director-General
Thompson was appointed Director-General on 21 May 2004. 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 ( 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. 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, 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 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." Staff were emailed on 19 July 2007 and later in the year all staff, including the Director-General undertook a Safeguarding Trust course.
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. Nevertheless, Thompson reiterated the BBC’s commitment to Ross’ style of edgy comedy, claiming that “BBC audiences accept that, in comedy, performers attempt to push the line of taste”. 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.
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 failing to produce programmes 'that inspired viewers to visit galleries, museums or theatres'. He was also criticised by Tony Palmer, a multi-award winning film-maker. 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."
He was severely criticised 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 for BBC director-general Mark Thompson. 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."
In January 2009, Thompson supported the controversial decision by the BBC not to broadcast the DEC Gaza appeal. Complaints to the BBC about the decision were directed to a statement by Thompson.
In October 2009, Thompson defended the decision by the BBC to invite British National Party leader Nick Griffin to appear on the Question Time programme following criticism by Labour politicians including Home Secretary Alan Johnson and Secretary of State for Wales Peter Hain. The decision also led to protests outside BBC Television Centre by UAF campaigners. Thompson said: "It is a straightforward matter of fact that … the BNP has demonstrated a level of support which would normally lead to an occasional invitation to join the panel on Question Time. It is for that reason alone … that the invitation has been extended. The case against inviting the BNP to appear on Question Time is a case for censorship … Democratic societies sometimes do decide that some parties and organisations are beyond the pale. As a result they proscribe them and/or ban them from the airwaves. My point is simply that the drastic steps of proscription and censorship can only be taken by government and parliament … It is unreasonable and inconsistent to take the position that a party like the BNP is acceptable enough for the public to vote for, but not acceptable enough to appear on democratic platforms like Question Time. If there is a case for censorship, it should be debated and decided in parliament. Political censorship cannot be outsourced to the BBC or anyone else."
In January 2010, Thompson was strongly criticised over the size of his £834,000 pay packet, and was told by one of his own journalists that "there are huge numbers of people in the organisation who think your salary is plain wrong and corrosive."
In 2009 Thompson was ranked as the 65th most powerful person in the world by Forbes magazine.
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 - he 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, the UK's leading communications charity.
Thompson lives in Oxford with his American Jewish wife Jane Blumberg (daughter of Baruch Samuel Blumberg) whom he married in 1987. They have two sons and one daughter. Thompson is a Roman Catholic, and attends the Oratory Church of St Aloysius Gonzaga. He is a member of the Reform Club and a patron of the Art Room charity in Oxford.