Ex-BBC Boss Defends Comments on Failed Digital Media Initiative

Mark Thompson, former BBC director general, current CEO of the New York Times Company
Mark Thompson, former BBC director general, current CEO of the New York Times Company
 Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images

LONDON - Mark Thompson, the former BBC director general who is now CEO of the New York Times Co., has defended comments he made in 2011 about the state of the U.K. public broadcaster's recently shuttered Digital Media Initiative.

Members of a U.K. parliamentary committee focusing on public spending had on Monday criticized the BBC and Thompson for misleading parliament back then about the digitization project that the public broadcaster recently said cost $149 million and that it declared failed.

The BBC last month axed the Digital Media Initiative, which was designed to make all production and archive operations fully digital. 

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"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," committee chair Margaret Hodge said on Monday. "The evidence given to us was not correct at that time, and had you given us the correct evidence, we might have come to a very different view to the one we came to when we looked at this."

The Guardian quoted Thompson as saying in a statement that he gave his 2011 testimony "honestly and in good faith." He added: "I did so on the basis of information provided to me at the time by the BBC executives responsible for delivering the project."

As expected earlier in the week, Thompson has been formally recalled to parliament for a July hearing to explain his comments from two years ago, according to the paper.

Since British taxpayers support the BBC with annual license fee payments, the parliamentary committee review and BBC probes are looking at what went wrong with the Digital Media Initiative.

“The DMI project has wasted a huge amount of license fee payers’ money, and I saw no reason to allow that to continue," BBC director general Tony Hall said last month. "I have serious concerns about how we managed this project and the review that has been set up is designed to find out what went wrong and what lessons can be learned."

E-mail: Georg.Szalai@thr.com
Twitter: @georgszalai

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