U.K. Pols Attack Former BBC Chief Thompson

Criticism centers on failed Digital Media Initiative

mark thompson BBC
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LONDON — Members of a Parliamentary committee in Blighty have accused the BBC and its former director general Mark Thompson of misleading Parliament with evidence given two years ago about the progress of its recently scrapped Digital Media Initiative.

Last month, the Beeb axed the project, which would digitize its production systems and enable all BBC staff to create programs from their desktops, after spending a total of £98.4 million ($152.9 million) of license fee payers’ money on the initiative.

After nearly five years since the project began, a review of the project deemed the initiative a failure and current BBC director general Tony Hall closed down the project saying, “ambitious technology projects like this always carry a risk of failure, it does not mean we should not attempt them, but we have a responsibility to keep them under much greater control than we did here.”

Both the National Audit Office and consultants PriceWaterhouseCoopers are investigating the fiasco.

According to the Guardian, at a hearing on Monday at BBC’s headquarters in Salford, BBC Trust member Anthony Fry told the committee that the evidence was “extraordinarily worrying” and “at a personal level, it is probably the most serious, embarrassing thing I have ever seen.”

He added that MPs were right to feel “furious on behalf of license-fee payers” and admitted that the project had been a “complete catastrophe.”

The paper added that Margaret Hodge, chair of the public accounts committee, said the Beeb gave evidence about DMI during a parliamentary hearing in 2011 that “just wasn’t true.”

Hodge said that Thompson had told MPs that the DMI system was already in use and “there are many programs that are already being made with DMI.”

According to the Guardian reports, Hodge said: “The thing that really shook me is we were told there were bits of this system that were working, you were using and running programs with them and that wasn’t true.”

In a statement, Thompson, who is currently chief exec of the New York Times Company, said: “When I appeared in front of the PAC…I answered all of the questions from committee members honestly and in good faith.

“I did so on the basis of information provided to me at the time by the BBC executives responsible for delivering the project.”

Members of the committee have asked for Thompson to return to Blighty to face further questioning.