The BBC is in hot water again, this time over the handling of the Digital Media Initiative, a project to digitize archive content and make it easily accessible to production staff. The project was cancelled last month, but had already cost the broadcaster and taxpayers nearly £100M. Now, the Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) contends that it was misled over the status of the initiative during evidence given in 2011 by the BBC and its then-director general Mark Thompson. At the time, Thompson – who is now CEO of the New York Times Company – told the Committee, “There are many programs that are already being made with DMI, and some have gone to air and are going to air with DMI already working.” But at a hearing yesterday, Committee chair Margaret Hodge said, “We were told that there were bits of this system that were working, that you were using them. That wasn’t true. That just wasn’t true.” She has summoned Thompson to answer questions at a July hearing, The Guardian reports.
In a statement, Thompson 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.” Thompson has had a hard time leaving the BBC behind. Just as he was starting his New York Times Co. job in November, he was the subject of scrutiny from the flagship paper, and the British media, over the Jimmy Savile/Newsnight saga and was also interviewed for an inquiry into the scandal which erupted just after he left the broadcaster.
Launched in 2008, the DMI was put under review last year and found that it was not going to deliver on objectives. When it was spiked on May 24, BBC director general Tony Hall said the project had “wasted a huge amount of Licence Fee payers’ money… I have serious concerns about how we managed this project.” BBC Trustee Anthony Fry told the PAC on Monday that the DMI was a “complete catastrophe.” The National Audit Office and PriceWaterhouseCoopers are conducting independent reviews into the debacle.