Former BBC Chief Thompson Apologizes for Failed Media Investment

Former British Broadcasting Corp. Director General Mark Thompson said a failed digital media initiative at the broadcaster, which resulted in a loss of about 100 million pounds ($163.4 million), deteriorated under his watch.

“I want to apologize for the failure of this project,” Thompson said before a committee of members of the U.K. parliament today. “It definitely failed. When I came to see you in 2011, I believe the project was in very good shape indeed.”

Thompson, who led the BBC for eight years and now serves as chief executive officer of New York Times Co. (NYT), answered questions about the failed program before Parliament today. A report by the U.K.’s National Audit Office last week criticized BBC managers over the project, saying management “did not have a sufficient grip” on the initiative.

Thompson said that the BBC Trust should have hired outside consultants with better technical knowledge to help oversee the DMI initiative and managers shouldn’t have canceled an examination that had been planned to look into the project.

“We did not have, as the BBC Trust, a sufficient knowledge around technology to properly question the statements being made,” about the efficacy of the program, Thompson said.

Today’s appearance was the second time in recent months Thompson faced legislators to answer questions over perceived missteps at the publicly funded broadcaster. In the span of just over a year, the BBC has been marred by sex allegations against star presenters, the sudden resignation of Thompson’s successor, criticism over excessive severance pay to former managers and the failed IT program.

License Funding

The BBC is funded by U.K. residents through an annual license fee charged to households that own televisions. The current fee is 145.50 pounds for a color TV license.

The broadcaster’s severance policies drew increased scrutiny after former Director General George Entwistle received 450,000 pounds, more than twice his contracted entitlement, when he quit less than two months into the job in November. Entwistle stepped down after a television report by the BBC’s “Newsnight” program falsely implicated a former senior politician with sexual abuse of a child.

That followed revelations that former “Top of the Pops” host Jimmy Savile sexually abused hundreds of children on BBC property, in hospitals, and elsewhere.

In March, the BBC was also criticized over selling the Lonely Planet travel-guide publishing division at a loss of almost 80 million pounds to a U.S. billionaire.

To contact the reporters on this story: Kristen Schweizer in London at kschweizer1@bloomberg.net; Amy Thomson in London at athomson6@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Kenneth Wong at kwong11@bloomberg.net

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