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BBC trio slammed by new boss

August 27, 2013

The current and former BBC execs behind the £100 million+ cancelled Digital Media Initiative (DMI) have been condemned by new BBC Director General Tony Hall.  Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, and following some bruising criticism from delegates to last week’s Edinburgh Television Festival, Lord Hall said the DMI project which he scrubbed in April “was the most serious, embarrassing thing I have ever seen.”

Lord Hall did not name and shame the trio of executives consecutively responsible for the fiasco, but it is widely recognised that the DMI project was initiated by Ashley Highfield in 2008. Highfield was the BBC’s director of New Media & Technology at the time, and said DMI would potentially save the BBC some £18 million a year. The project was outsourced to Siemens – without any tendering – and granted funding of £81 million.

Barely 18 months later, in December 2009, the Siemens contract was scrapped and they are compensated to the tune of £27.5 million, and the project is brought in-house in February 2009 by the BBC’s new Director of Future Media & Technology, Erik Huggers, and given a fancy new name, ‘Fabric’.

Last year it was widely reported that staff working on Fabric had suffered “extreme stress” and that some been treated at the expensive London rehabilitation and treatment clinic, The Priory.

The third member of the trio is the BBC’s CTO John Linwood, now suspended on full pay while an investigation into the DMI scandal is completed.  Of course, one could argue that a 4th member of the BBC executive board should also be accountable. That’s Mark Thompson, director general throughout the period, but perhaps he was simply too busy.  The influential National Audit Office has said of Thompson that he “had deliberately misled the inquiry” into the DMI carried out by NAO.

Highfield left the BBC to join Microsoft in November 2008, he now runs Johnston Press. Huggers left the BBC to join Intel in January 2011. Thompson runs the New York Times.

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