Ex-BBC chief Mark Thompson apologises for failed $170 mln IT project

LONDON Mon Feb 3, 2014 11:31am EST

LONDON Feb 3 (Reuters) - U.S. media executive Mark Thompson apologised on Monday to the British public and parliamentarians for the failure of a 100 million pound ($170 million) digital project during his years of running the BBC.

Thompson, who left the publicly funded broadcaster in 2012 to become chief executive at the New York Times Company, said the Digital Media Initiative (DMI) failed as a project in many ways and as a result lost the public money.

The project, that was meant to allow BBC staff to create, share and store content in a new digital system, was suspended in 2012 and axed in May last year with a loss of 98.4 million pounds.

"I want to apologise to you and to the public for the failure of this project," Thompson, who was BBC director general for eight years, told parliament's public accounts committee as he was quizzed over his role in the project.

Britain's public spending watchdog, the National Audit Office (NAO), last week criticised the BBC Executive Board then headed by Thompson for not having "sufficient grip" on the project over an 18-month period or assessing the system to see if it was "technically sound".

The NAO report comes after a series of controversies that have rocked public confidence in the BBC, including criticism over large payments to departing executives, a child sex scandal involving ex-TV presenter Jimmy Savile, and workplace bullying.

Thompson was called before the Public Accounts Committee last September to testify about severance payments for 150 departing executives that were described by the committee as excessive.

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