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Politicians: BBC Misled Parliament Over Failed Digital Media Initiative

DOWN: Mark Thompson
Mark Thompson, former BBC director general, current CEO of the New York Times Company.

Members of a parliamentary committee criticize former director general Mark Thompson and his team over the recently axed digitization push, which cost $149 million.

LONDON - Members of a U.K. parliamentary committee have criticized the BBC and former director general Mark Thompson for misleading Parliament in 2011 about a digitization project that the public broadcaster recently declared failed.

The BBC last month axed the so-called Digital Media Initiative, which was designed to make all production and archive operations fully digital, saying it cost $149 million. 

A review had found that the initiative wasn't going well enough and that it "was not going to deliver on its stated objectives," the public broadcaster said then. Current BBC director general Tony Hall decided to close the project, which was launched in 2008 -- long before he took over this spring -- with the agreement of the BBC Trust.

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Since British taxpayers support the BBC with annual license fee payments, the parliamentary committee and BBC reviews are looking at what went wrong with the Digital Media Initiative (DMI). “The DMI project has wasted a huge amount of license fee payers’ money, and I saw no reason to allow that to continue," 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."

At a hearing on Monday, members of the British House of Commons' public accounts committee said the BBC and Thompson, now CEO of the New York Times Co., gave evidence on the DMI in 2011 that "just wasn't true," according to the Guardian.

"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," the Guardian quoted committee chair Margaret Hodge as saying 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."

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BBC trustee Anthony Fry acknowledged at the hearing that the DMI turned out to be a "complete catastrophe," the paper reported.

It said Thompson was expected to be recalled to explain his 2011 evidence, which included a comment that "many programs [were] being made with DMI" and that the system had contributed to broadcasts.

Email: Georg.Szalai@thr.com
Twitter: @georgszalai