Ex-BBC boss sorry over failed digital media scheme

Former BBC director general Mark Thompson says a failed digital media initiative at the broadcaster, which resulted in a loss of about £100m (about €120.5m), deteriorated under his watch.

“I want to apologise for the failure of this project,” Thompson said before a committee of members of the UK parliament yesterday. “It definitely failed. When I came to see you in 2011, I believed the project was in very good shape indeed.”

Thompson, who led the BBC for eight years and now serves as chief executive of New York Times Co, answered questions about the failed programme before Parliament yesterday. A report by the UK’s National Audit Office last week criticised BBC chiefs over the project, saying management “did not have a sufficient grip” on the initiative.

Thompson said that the BBC Trust should have hired outside consultants with better technical knowledge to help oversee the DMI initiative and managers shouldn’t have cancelled an examination that had been planned to look into the project.

“We did not have, as the BBC Trust, a sufficient knowledge around technology to properly question the statements being made,” about the efficacy of the programme, Thompson said.

Yesterday’s appearance was the second time in recent months Thompson faced legislators to answer questions over perceived missteps at the publicly-funded broadcaster. In the span of just over a year, the BBC has been marred by sex allegations against star presenters, the sudden resignation of Thompson’s successor, criticism over excessive severance pay to former managers and the failed IT programme.

The BBC is funded by UK residents through an annual license fee. The current fee is £145.50 (€175.34) for a colour TV license.

The broadcaster’s severance policies drew increased scrutiny after former director general George Entwistle received £450,000, more than twice his contracted entitlement, when he quit less than two months into the job in November. Entwistle stepped down after a report by the BBC’s Newsnight programme falsely implicated a former senior politician with the sexual abuse of a child.

That followed revelations that former Top of the Pops host Jimmy Savile sexually abused hundreds of children on BBC property and elsewhere.

In March, the BBC was also criticized over selling the Lonely Planet travel-guide publishing division at a loss of almost £80m to a US billionaire.

— Bloomberg


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