Licence Fee

BBC snooping intensifies in pursuit of iPlayer licence-fee dodgers

BBC snooping intensifies in pursuit of iPlayer licence-fee dodgers

Watch out!  Are you about to be packet-sniffed by the BBC?

The prospect of millions of viewers being snooped upon by Corporation licence-fee collectors in unprecedented ways is firmly on the agenda.

The BBC has denied that the actual ‘packet-sniffing’, which (for the uninitiated) involves breaking into private wi-fi networks using special software, and is illegal if used privately, will be involved in their collection activities, but their protestations are not fully-convincing.

Even their friends on The Guardian smell a rat.  And definitely being deployed the length and breadth of the land by collection agents Capita from September 1 in order to catch miscreants who dare to access the BBC iPlayer via their computers – even if they don’t also have a TV set – are a range of new snooping measures that put the licence evasion operation even more firmly into the Big Brother league.

The BBC won’t reveal what these measures are, or what equipment they will actually use, but they have been granted extra enforcement powers under the Investigatory Powers Act, which was passed by the Blair government in 2000, and enables eavesdropping by authorised bodies using a vast array of sophisticated equipment.

Why is this deemed necessary in the run up to Charter renewal? Because despite pressure on the Conservative government to find new, less repressive and more modern ways of funding the Corporation – and dozens of well-argued options being out there – former Chancellor George Osborne decided instead to cave in to Corporation pressure.

Perversely, the BBC, an organisation that goes into indignation overdrive at the very mention of state intrusion in other arenas, thinks that mass-spying and the criminalisation of 153,000 people a year is both justified and essential in pursuit of its own reservation and ends.

No matter that tens of thousands of these offenders are the least well-off, Osborne ruled in 2015 – despite the advice of then culture secretary John Whittingdale – that the licence fee would not only continue but would be extended to viewing of catch-up services on the BBC iPlayer.

All this interference would be completely unnecessary if the BBC’s totally outmoded financing system, dating from an era when the broadcast spectrum was a scarce resource, was scrapped and replaced by subscription funding.

Audiences would then be able to choose which programmes and services they wanted to buy. This is a consumer model which applies to almost every other product, and which works perfectly well as a revenue model for Sky, Netflix, HBO and legions of other broadcasters.

Instead, the government has gone completely the opposite way, and the UK is saddled with this regressive and repressive regime from September 1 until the next Charter review in ten years’ time.

The statistics on licence enforcement make for fascinating reading and underline that the agenda here is not at all straightforward. Nuts and sledgehammers come to mind. Is such massive intrusion actually required?

And the suspicion emerges that in play also might also be the government’s desire to protect some of its own revenues rather than to open up broadcasting to normal competitive pressures.

Facts (gleaned from a variety of sources, including here):

The BBC, through Capita and the magistrates’ court system, pursues each year 170,000 cases a year of licence evasion.

The number has been rising at the rate of 4% per annum.  They (and Capita) are thus becoming increasingly intrusive.

Of these, 153,000 prosecutions a year are successful.  The vast majority of ‘evaders’ are from low-income households, often those headed by a single parent.

This volume amounts to 11.5% of total cases in magistrates’ courts, but the combined workload takes up only 0.3% of court time because cases are rarely contested and hearings are en masse in special courts. This means that the cost per prosecution is only £28.

The average fine plus surcharges for non-payment (with offenders having to pay the licence fee on top) is £340.  This means that the total yield of licence evasion to the Ministry of Justice is around £52 million. Astonishingly, that’s approximately 10% of the total fines revenue imposed in UK courts (£550m). Put another way, licence fee evasion is a cheap cash-cow for the Ministry.

And yet, conversely, licence fee non-payment adds up to only a small fraction of the Corporation’s £3.7 billion n licence-fee revenues. The £3.7 billion equates to 25.5 million licence fees – roughly in line with the number of UK households. Evasion is only £22.3m, or roughly 0.5% of the total.

The law is the law, of course…but a central question here is whether ever-expanding intrusion, with all the unpleasant elements such snooping entails, can be justified? Is it right that tens of thousands of the UK’s poor continue to be criminalised in this way? Netflix and Sky simply cut people off.

Whichever way you look at it, the system is outmoded, Orwellian and in some respects, plain ridiculous. George Osborne has a lot more than extreme Europhilia to answer for.

Photo by dan taylor

MPs are right to demand a clear-out of the lefty timeservers running the BBC

MPs are right to demand a clear-out of the lefty timeservers running the BBC

At last! MPs have finally confirmed that they want very radical changes in the way the BBC is run, including the decriminalisation and eventual axing of the totally anachronistic – and hated – licence fee.

At the heart of the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s 166-page report is a key  recommendation:  that the Trustees  – the rotten heart of the BBC – should be axed and replaced by a genuinely and rigorously independent body that ensures that the Corporation is run in the interests of audiences.

The current regime thinks their job is to champion the Corporation in its right-on lefty agenda – blatantly evident in everything it does – rather than holding it properly to account over editorial standards and the spending of £4bn of taxpayers’ money a year.

That’s exactly what has happened with Rona Fairhead, the new colourless chairman, who within weeks of her appointment in the autumn was telling MPs on the Culture Committee how wonderful the BBC’s output was. In more recent evidence to the Commons European Scrutiny Committee, she made it crystal clear that – despite massive evidence to the contrary – she believed that everything that was broadcast by the BBC about the EU was balanced, fair and totally within the Trustees’ remit.

Also typical of the sycophancy of the current Trustees is Richard Ayre. He worked at the BBC for almost 30 years, then had a brief spell on a quango after he took a fat BBC early-retirement pension (at only 50). He is now the Trustee in charge of editorial standards.  Like so many at the Corporation he is a dyed-in-the-wool lefty and a gay rights champion. His espousal of right-on causes is typified by his role as a former Chair of Article 19, a campaigning human rights body whose agenda includes massive indoctrination over ‘climate change’.

During Ayre’s period in office, the Trust has formally adopted its own aggressive ‘climate change’ agenda after commissioning a highly-biased report on the subject. In effect, BBC coverage on this subject is now always outrageously skewed in favour of climate change activists such as Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund.

Recently, Ayre admitted to MPs (in the same hearing as Fairhead) that also during his watch as a Trustee, the Editorial Standards Committee – the final body in dealing with complaints from the public about content  – had not upheld a single complaint about the BBC’s EU coverage in its entire existence (since 2007).  In fact, only one in 5,000 complaints received by the BBC is upheld by the Trust and every aspect of its complaints regime is massively biased in the BBC’s favour.

Also typical of the BBC Trustees is current deputy chairman, Diana Coyle. She is married to a BBC journalist and is an economist and journalist. In that role she has made no secret of her strongly pro-Labour, and pro EU views.

Another Trustee is Lord Williams of Baglan. Who? Well, like Richard Ayre, his primary career was as a journalist in the BBC World Service, with its heavily pro-overseas aid agenda. In the 1990s, he switched to the UN and worked in the same rights agenda framework inhabited by Ayre’s Article 19. He had posts as information officer in gilded-cage UN offices in New York and Geneva before becoming advisor to Labour ministers Jack Straw and Robin Cook.  His career path makes it very clear that he is unlikely to vote Ukip. In his Trustee biography, he boasts sychophantically that he has a ‘lifelong bond’ with the BBC ethos.

Massive evidence of the Trustee’s failings can be seen in their handling of complaints about EU coverage. In  order to check ‘breadth of content’ ,  they commissioned former BBC trainee Stuart Prebble, who subsequently became the editor of Granada Television’s lefty ITV current affairs programme World in Action.  Prebble was actually appointed to his role by a BBC Trustee David Liddiment, his former Granada colleague.

The subsequent report was a complete whitewash based on crassly inadequate methodology commissioned from former senior BBC news executives now working at Cardiff University. Prebble also took most note in his conclusions to evidence from BBC news executives, who told him how wonderful their programmes were.

In that context, the Media Committee’s report makes complete sense. What’s needed is a clearing of these Augean stables of lefty rectitude. Public service broadcasting needs in the United Kingdom a new force at its heart that understands that the BBC has to be genuinely independent and held to account.

Photo by dgoomany

BBC Jonathan Ross Return: Why?

BBC Jonathan Ross Return: Why?

Could the new BBC motto be: “we don’t give a damn”?

Their decision to allow the return of Jonathan Ross to front programmes on BBC Radio 2 certainly shows they are prepared to ride massively roughshod over people’s feelings.

Make no mistake, what Jonathan Ross said in 2008 on his Radio 2 show about the actor Andrew Sachs’s daughter, and the way he treated the Sachs himself was thoroughly unpleasant, to the extent that it caused a national outcry and led to a £150,000 fine from Ofcom for breaches of broadcasting rules.

He and his sidekick, Russell Brand, decided it would be good fun to taunt in expletive-filled phone calls the gentle septuagenarian with news that Brand had had sex with the Fawlty Towers star’s grand- daughter.

That such a nasty attack was allowed on its airwaves showed graphically that the BBC bar for what is acceptable behaviour is set very low indeed.

However you look at the incident, and in whatever light you cast it, this showed Ross and Brand to be both sexist and appalling in their manners. And, at the same time, that they plainly did not give a damn either about the sensibilities of the old or about what impact their revelations might have on the Sachs family.

The impact, as Ross must have known (if he did not, then he is also an idiot), was designed to be and bound to be poisonous. If newspaper interviews are to be believed, they achieved the desired effect. It wrought havoc on the family dynamics, and the repercussions are still reverberating now.  Ross caused incalculable pain that probably will never be forgotten.

Back in 2008, it was only after revulsion at the incident reached fever-pitch that the BBC took action. Eventually they removed him from the show but the way they did it showed that every part of the process was deeply resented.  It looked from the outside that they believed that what Ross did was ‘artistic freedom’, was a jolly good jape, and should be defended as much as possible. .

And now, there’s clear proof that the boys and girls in Broadcasting House don’t give a damn about how much they hurt an old man.  They have given Ross a stand-in contract to return and, according to the Daily Mail are paying him £4,000 to present three shows in the Steve Wright slot back on Radio 2.

Ross has never apologised for the Sachs incident and clearly still thinks what he did was funny, so on that front nothing has changed.

So why have the BBC allowed it?  It defies belief that they could think Ross’s conduct has been forgiven, because Andrew Sachs has clearly said in interviews that it hasn’t.

According to the Daily Mail, a BBC spokesman said: ‘Jonathan is an experienced and talented broadcaster … [who] is returning for this one-off stint of holiday cover for Steve Wright. There are no plans to bring him back permanently.

That’s clearly alright then. He is an experienced and talented broadcaster and that, in the Corporation’s rulebook, clearly justifies everything.

But hang on. There are dozens of stand-in presenters in the Radio 2 stable who are just as talented and just as experienced. Why not them?

The reality is that someone, somewhere in the BBC hierarchy still thinks this is a matter of ‘artistic freedom’. They want Ross to return so the point can be made, regardless of the impact on the Sachs family.

Who could this be? Well of course, from the outside, it’s difficult to know. What’s certain is that the contract with Ross would not have been allowed to go ahead without the say so of the overall Director of BBC Radio, Helen Boaden.

Ms Boaden, it will be recalled, was the Corporation’s Director of News during the Savile affair – it was she on her watch, that the nasty libel of Lord McAlpine on Newsnight was broadcast.  She was subsequently removed from her post, but in true BBC fashion, allowed by director general Tony Hall to continue in another-almost-as-senior role. We are now seeing the consequences.

Photo by Gage Skidmore

Linwood Sacking: Classic NuLabour Spin?

The 66-page employment tribunal ruling on the illegal sacking by the BBC executive board of is former chief technology officer John Linwood is an astonishing read.

It makes forensically clear that due process was completely disregarded and Linwood was disgracefully and ridiculously made a scapegoat for systemic, multiple management failures within the upper echelons of BBC management.  That a Corporation funded by £3.5bn of public money, and run by senior executives almost all on salaries in excess of £250,000 a year, could act with such serial incompetence defies belief.

What’s equally clear is the James Purnell, the former Labour minister appointed by director general Tony Hall as his strategy director shortly before the sacking, played a pivotal role in the botched execution. It has Nu Labour-style fingerprints all over it.

The sacking decision was taken at a meeting of the executive board in May 13 2013 shortly after Tony Hall took over as director general.  What actually happened will never be known, because, incredibly, it was not properly minuted. Those present gave the employment tribunal sharply different accounts.

But it seems that the blue touch paper towards the firing was lit by Purnell on April 24 when he wrote to Linwood and other senior managers  that Tony Hall wanted to make a speech in June or July in which ‘he could clear out any problems’ he had inherited. He added: “This wasn’t specifically about technology but if there any technology problems that we are worried about, this would be a good opportunity to abandon and move on”.

Weasel words: what he must surely have known was that was the death warrant for DMI; the employment tribunal records show that what he set in train was panic reaction from all those responsible for the project, culminating in the removal of  Linwood.

It’s surely inconceivable that Purnell wrote the note without the full authority of Tony Hall.

Purnell’s name enters the frame again on May 19 after the deed had been done. He wrote another email saying he needed ‘a clear line on Linwood, whether he was resigning, or being fired and why’.

Actually, it was a a prime reason that the Corporation’s attempt to blame Linwood for his own demise failed, because it showed graphically that Purnell and others at the meeting on May 13 were not following  due process.

But in other words, writ large – the cardinal approach of Nu Labour: never mind the substance, concentrate on the spin.

And the final piece of evidence about Purnell’s role is that, according to Linwood, John Tate, Purnell’s deputy, admitted privately to Linwood on June 3 that ‘of course it was a stitch up’. There is only Linwood’s word for that, but who could now doubt the veracity?

BBC ‘Hung chief technology officer out to dry’

BBC ‘Hung chief technology officer out to dry’

The botched sacking by the BBC of its chief technology officer John Linwood last week raises very serious questions about the integrity of the Corporation and its decision-making processes.

News-watch has repeatedly highlighted  problems with the BBC’s  editorial integrity and how biased its coverage is in certain crucial respects. The removal of Linwood raises major questions about the whole management ethos. The full, sorry saga, is here. It could become a textbook on how not to manage.

An employment tribunal in this unpleasant episode ruled that Linwood – who was in charge of the BBC’s failed £125m Digital Media Initiative (DMI) – was subjected to a campaign of vilification, given only days to prepare his case,  and treated with ‘cavalier disregard” by the senior management who fired him.

There isn’t the space here to detail in full the bad practice involved; suffice it to say that there is absolutely no doubt from the 66-page ruling that the BBC acted disgracefully. Reports can be found here, here and here.

Let’s not mince words – this was a kangaroo court. Once it was decided in May 2013 that he was to blame for the DMI fiasco, Linwood, paid £280,000 a year, was bad-mouthed from the rooftops by his former colleagues, cut loose and hung out to dry.

And let’s also be clear. This was not a hole-in-the-corner exercise. Linwood’s execution was carried out in the full light of day by the Corporation’s most senior management body, the BBC executive board, responsible to the Trustees for every aspect of BBC operations.

It’s also the case that the man who directed proceedings that day – unlike his hapless predecessor, George Entwhistle, who ignominiously resigned over the handling of the Jimmy Savile affair – hasn’t left the corporation, isn’t in disgrace and is still in full charge. It’s the current director general, Tony Hall, Lord Hall of Birkenhead.

And with him at the board meeting when he made the decisions were a raft of his most senior BBC staff  who are still there: Danny Cohen the director television, Helen Boaden, director radio, Fran Unsworth, deputy director of news (on the day, she was acting head because Helen Boaden had been removed from the post) , and Tony Purnell, the former Labour minister drafted in by Lord Hall to be his director of strategy.

It seems likely, too, that the board was acting with the full blessing of the BBC Trustees and maybe at their behest, because by this stage the DMI was an increasingly high-profile embarrassment that was haemorrhaging cash.

DMI had been conceived in 2008-9 to create a ‘seamless’ BBC archive operation, but quickly ran into problems. In 2011, the National Audit Office was hired by the Trustees to investigate. Their report sounded serious warning bells about how the project was being managed, and also pointed out that a scheme that was designed to save the corporation money was already costing millions.

Lord Hall took over as director general in the spring of 2013 and the DMI bombshell well and truly exploded in his face – during Margaret Thatcher’s funeral coverage, it emerged that DMI was actually, in effect  blocking access to existing archives so that thousands were being spent on ferrying tapes around London .

It also emerged that all in, DMI was likely to cost the Corporation £125m.  Linwood was the man chosen to carry the can and that was why he was immediately hung out to dry. At the same meeting, the whole project was cancelled and Hall and his board admitted that it would cost the licence-fee payers almost £100m.

This was mismanagement on a colossal scale, as subsequent inquiries by the Commons public accounts committee found.  They branded the whole scheme a ‘complete failure’, and they pointed out this was not the fault of one man, but a collective responsibility.

So what does this whole sorry saga reveal about the BBC as it enters the negotiations for the renewal of the licence fee?

This was reckless disregard for due process, and  as the Employment Tribunal makes clear, glaring incompetence – despite all the millions of our money the BBC  spends on management ‘know how’, training and salaries.

More worrying, Lord Hall’s BBC seems to intend to carry on undaunted. The BBC’s formal response to the tribunal was reported on the BBC website as follows:

In a statement, the BBC said the failure of the project had been “a very difficult set of circumstances” and expressed disappointment over the tribunal’s decision.

“We had a major failure of a significant project, and we had lost confidence – as the tribunal acknowledges – in John Linwood.

“At the time we believed we acted appropriately,” the corporation continued. “The tribunal has taken a different view.

Photo by Yuri Yu. Samoilov

New BBC Chairman ‘must deal with bias’

New BBC Chairman ‘must deal with bias’

Speculation is continuing about who will become new BBC chairman in succession to Lord Patten. It’s reported that Lord Coe – said to be the favourite of David Cameron – has pulled out of the selection process, as has Marjorie Scardino, the tough-talking former head of the Pearson group.

The new front-runner is said by the Guardian – who because it is the BBC house organ, tends to know these things – to be existing Trustee Nick Prettejohn. Who?

Actually, he’s a former advisor to George Osborne on banking regulation who was recently appointed to be chairman of the Scottish Widows investment and pensions company.

No doubt he’s capable in his own field, but it seems astonishing that he is even in the frame.

The BBC Charter is up for renewal in 2017, and the new chairman will thus be in charge of probably the most crucial negotiations in the Corporation’s history.

Should not the chairman therefore be someone who is genuinely knowledgeable about broadcasting? Not only that, someone who can use that knowledge to think radically, robustly and ruthlessly about the Corporation’s future?

The reality is that the BBC needs major surgical reform to recognise the continuing massive flux in how people use media.

The Corporation’s structure and its licence-fee financing were set up at a time when initially radio and then television was a scare resource because of the massive expense and limited availability in distributing signals.

The enforced licence fee of £3.5bn a year – which criminalises thousands of the poorest in our society every year and clogs up our magistrates’ courts – is a beached whale of a regressive tax that should be axed and replaced with subscription.

Such massive sums of guaranteed income have proved to be seriously corrupting, in that the narrow media elite who work for the corporation and are its Trustees have a liberal-left mindset. The vast majority of the programmes they have been producing for years are dominated by that outlook.

Coverage of issues such as climate change, immigration, drug abuse and the EU are systematically biased – and because the Corporation is its own judge and jury on complaints, the current regime is incapable of seeing that this is the case.

News-watch recently attended a meeting as part of a delegation of eurosceptics with some senior BBC news executives about the coverage of the May European elections Their approach from the outset to the detailed research before them was that it was wrong – even though they had not read it. They told us knew for certain because figures like Jamie Angus, the editor of the Today programme was ‘a good guy’ who knew what he was doing.

Such breath-taking arrogance and stone-walling is clear evidence of just how corrupting the current licence-fee system has become. The BBC is a privileged, blinkered monopoly as outmoded in modern Britain as the old British Telecom nationalised company that insisted the only telephones you could buy were the ones they told you you could buy.

One note of optimism is that new culture secretary Sajid Javid is said to be determined to end the licence fee and introduce genuine change.

That doesn’t mean the end of public service broadcasting. It means the replacement of an out-of-control dinosaur by a new mean and lean high-minded broadcasting service that has to fight for every penny of its income by being genuinely in tune with what audiences want, and by reflecting the values of British tradition, culture and society.

But if the main candidate for the BBC’s top job is George Osborne’s advisor in financial regulation, I fear a golden opportunity may be lost.

Another strand of opinion reflected in the Guardian is that David Cameron is determined the new chairman should be female. That triggers loud warning bells, because the current acting chairman is Diana Coyle, who, as has been previously noted on News-watch, is the ultimate quango queen. If it is a woman, let’s hope it’s someone appointed genuinely on merit.

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BBC Glastonbury Extravaganza: Why and at what cost?

BBC Glastonbury Extravaganza: Why and at what cost?

Headline of the week about the BBC is that they are sending 300 staff to cover the Glastonbury festival to deliver around 80 hours of coverage on their main channels on television and radio.

Heading the junket are those brilliant broadcasters Fearne Cotton and Lauren Laverne. Several newspapers have focused on the story because the total is higher than the 272 being sent to cover the World Cup in Brazil.

Actually, the total at Glastonbury for the BBC is probably significantly more because almost certainly there will be a further freelancers and contractors supporting the Corporation presence.

This type of story is not really new. Back in 2009, it was noted that there were more BBC workers at the festival than there had been at the Beijing Olympics the previous year, at an estimated cost to the corporation of £1.5m. What price today?

Those who usually attend include the BBC’s creative director Alan Yentob.  He has held a reception for festival goers at licence-fee payers’ expense at his nearby Somerset home.

The BBC claims with customary intransigence that every one of their contingent is needed because this is a ‘major cultural event’.

Says who?  Well, of course, the BBC itself. Over the years the corporation’s massive presence there has elevated awareness of the festival to stratospheric levels.

And why?  The event actually accommodates just 135,000 people and costs £210 for a ticket, so it’s not exactly mass market. And this year’s headline acts – who include Dolly Parton and Robert Plant – are not exactly at the cutting edge of musical innovation or taste (though obviously enjoyed by many).

So the real reasons probably lie elsewhere. Is it that the BBC likes what Glastonbury stands for? The festival started life as an icon of the drug-taking counter-culture and the suspicion must be that in the BBC’s collective eyes remains at its centre. And – probably more crucially – it’s also a platform for charity sponsors who share the BBC’s values on issues such as climate change alarmism. One of them is Greenpeace, which says:

“This year there will be a new centrepiece the massive  Aurora the giant polar bear!… a messenger from the Arctic reminding Festival goers that it’s an area under threat like never before. Attendees can hear her stories, and join in with the children’s workshops where everyone is welcome. All around the field are Greenpeace campaigners who can bring Festival goers up to date with their campaigns like the Arctic, giving the facts about things like fracking, flooding and even what’s behind the climate chaos that threatens us all.”

Major eco-activism is thus centrally on the agenda, including terrifying children and telling us that we are all going to die. That’s exactly the propaganda that the boys and girls at the BBC love spreading so much, and is endorsed at the highest levels.

Meanwhile, as saturation-level Glastonbury and Brazil football coverage looms, the 8,000 strong BBC news division continues to practise bias by omission over news issues that truly matter. This weekend, the EU has announced a new health and safety law framework that, as many commentators note, will usher the dawn of both a Draconian new regime and severely further erode national sovereignty. So what do the battalions of BBC news staff make of this alarming new development? On the BBC website, there’s not a peep.

Photo by Eva Rinaldi Celebrity and Live Music Photographer

BBC Trustees ‘failed to challenge’ BBC executives over £100m digital disaster

BBC Trustees ‘failed to challenge’ BBC executives over £100m digital disaster

This section is dedicated to the unfolding saga of the BBC’s failed Digital Media Initiative, which the National Audit Office has said cost the licence-fee payer almost £100m  as a result of a catalogue of fundamental management failures by both the board of management and the Trustees.

Chairman of the BBC Trustees Lord Patten and former director general Mark Thompson have earned a stinging rebuke from the National Audit Office  for their handling of the failed Digital Media Initiative system (DMI),which was supposed to introduce a unified digital operating platform across the BBC.

The NAO report published on January 28 said the BBC executive board, led by then director general Mr Thompson, had failed to scrutinise enough the doomed IT project over an 18-month period and the BBC Trust, chaired by Lord Patten, had not done enough to challenge it.

The NAO also said the BBC was “too optimistic” about its ability to complete the project after it took it in-house from contractor Siemens in 2009, with reporting arrangements “not fit for purpose” and no single manager made responsible for the entire venture. DMI was eventually scrapped in May 2013, at a cost of £98.4m to licence fee payers.

The project – which was supposed to do away with the need for videotapes across the BBC and use digital technology to call up archive footage – was scrapped just a month into director general Tony Hall’s tenure in 2013, with the BBC Trust saying to continue it would be “throwing good money after bad”.

A PwC report commissioned by the BBC and published last month said the corporation should have identified that DMI would fail as early as July 2011, almost two years before it was eventually shut down.

The full NAO report can be seen here.

It has also emerged that Mark Thompson, along with , along with former BBC finance chief Zarin Patel, trustee Anthony Fry, ex-chief operating officer Caroline Thomson and director of operations Dominic Coles, will appear before the House of Commons public accounts committee on February 3 to face questioning about the issues raised by the NAO report about the DMI.

Margaret Hodge, the Labour MP who chairs the Commons public accounts committee, said the failures revealed in a National Audit Office report on the Digital Media Initiative (DMI) “go right to the top” of the corporation.

She added that the BBC Trust, the corporation’s governance body, chaired by Lord Patten, had questioned executives about slippages in the DMI programme in September 2011, “but then applied limited challenge until July 2012”.

Her full statement reads: ” This report reads like a catalogue of how not to run a major programme. I was shocked to learn how poor the BBC’s governance arrangements for the Digital Media Initiative were. There was no Senior Responsible Owner with complete oversight of all aspects of programme’s delivery.

“The report clearly demonstrates why regular reviews are necessary – and why external reviewers should be listened to. If the BBC had established clearer accountability and stronger reporting it could have recognised the issues much earlier and set about minimising the astronomic losses for the licence fee payer.

“These failures go right to the top. The executive board applied insufficient scrutiny during 2011 and the first half of 2012. The programme was not subject to any audit or assurance reporting between early 2011 until July 2012. The BBC Trust had questioned the executive about slippages in September 2011 but then applied limited challenge until July 2012. After the BBC executive board became aware of the problems it initiated a review in May 2012 of the DMI timetable, costs and benefits.

“The BBC Trust finance committee did not know until July 2012 that the DMI’s risk rating had increased to red for the period October to December 2011.

“The BBC needs to learn from the mistakes it made and ensure that it never again spends such a huge amount of licence fee payers’ money with almost nothing to show for it.”

Meanwhile, John Linwood, the former BBC chief technology officer, who it has emerged this week, was dismissed last summer over the failed initiative, has said in written evidence to the Commons public accounts committee that he is taking legal action against the corporation.

It is understood that Mr Linwood has claimed that the BBC allowed inaccurate statements to be made to the public accounts committee about DMI and has blamed a “changed vision” of how the project was supposed to work for its difficulties and closure.

In a separate submission to the committee, Bill Garrett, another former BBC technology executive who warned Lord Patten about problems with DMI in May 2012, said he believed that four years ago “a number of staff knowingly falsified estimates of financial benefits” in order to secure further funding for the project.

Filed January 27:

BBC technology chief ‘sacked’ as row over failed £100m scheme continues

The BBC has confirmed that the executive responsible for the corporation’s £100m digital media initiative (DMI) – which was supposed to create a unitary digital platform across operations – has been fired.

John Linwood, who held the post of BBC chief technology officer, on a salary of £287,000 a year, had initially been suspended during the summer when Director General Lord Hall announced publicly that the DMI objectives were not being met and the licence-fee payers’ money spent on it had been largely wasted.

It is understood that Mr Linwood, who left the corporation without a pay-off, is now claiming unfair dismissal.

Following the suspension of Mr Linwood, Lord Hall commissioned from accountants Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC) a report into the reasons for the DMI failure. But Mr Linwood, it now seems certain, was fired before the inquiry was commenced.

The 54-page report cost the BBC £263,340 to produce. According to the Guardian newspaper, it found no single issue or event caused DMI to fail. But PwC said the BBC took ‘too long’ to realise DMI was in serious trouble, because of weaknesses in project management and reporting, a lack of focus on business change, together with piecemeal assurance arrangements.

BBC insiders were critical of the tone and scope of the report, arguing that the corporation has got off lightly for its £98.4m technical blunder.

“We are of the view that had appropriate governance, risk management and reporting arrangements been established from the outset, then the process of preparing a revised business case for DMI could have been commenced as early as July 2011,” said PwC. “It took longer than we would have expected for the BBC to reach executive agreement on the future for DMI”.

Confirmation of his exit comes less than a fortnight before former director general Mark Thompson is due to appear before the Commons public accounts committee on 3 February.

The collapse of DMI will also be the subject of a report by the National Audit Office, expected to be published later this month.

BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten has also come in for criticism from MPs over the issue. They accused him of “obstruction and secrecy” after he apparently ordered the corporation not to disclose key documents about the failed project.

Mr Thompson was recalled to appear before MPs next month after he gave evidence to parliament about DMI in 2011. MPs later claimed that BBC executives’ statements “just weren’t true”.

They said Mr Thompson, now chief executive of the New York Times, incorrectly claimed the scheme was already up and running. He later said he gave evidence “honestly and in good faith” based on information from his executives.

Also appearing before MPs will be the corporation’s former finance chief Zarin Patel, BBC trustee Anthony Fry, ex-chief operating officer Caroline Thomson and BBC operations director Dominic Coles.

Photo by cdnorman

Commons Savages ‘Complacent’ BBC Trustees over Digital Project

Commons Savages ‘Complacent’ BBC Trustees over Digital Project

The Commons Public Accounts committee has published its final verdict on the BBC’s failed Digital Media Initiative (DMI), which wasted almost £100m of licence fee money.

The project, which was started in 2008 and abandoned last year, was supposed to create the most advanced digital film handling system in the world.

But in a devastating attack on the BBC’s conduct, committee chairman Margaret Hodge says the corporation failed from the Trustees downwards to manage the initiative and also refused to share when asked vital information about how the project was being managed.

The committee has issued a six point list of demands about future BBC management. They amount to a requirement that the  corporation follows the basic ABC of management procedures.

The committee’s report is the latest in a long line of critical investigations into the DMI debacle, including an inquiry by the National Audit Office in January which documented a catalogue of mistakes.

The only usable system delivered by DMI was an archive and ordering system that was slower than the 40-year-old process it was intended to replace, with just 163 staff and a running cost of £3m a year, four times the £780,000 annual cost of its archaic predecessor.

The BBC’s former chief technology officer John Linwood, who paid for the DMI fiasco with his job last summer, is understood to be continuing his legal action against the corporation.

The committee called on the BBC Trust to “set out…what changes it will make to be more proactive in chasing and challenging the BBC executive’s performance in delivering major projects so that it can properly protect the licence fee payers’ interest”.

Mrs Hodge said: “When my Committee examined the DMI’s progress in February 2011, the BBC told us that the DMI was “an absolutely essential have to have” and that a lot of the BBC’s future was tied up in the successful delivery of the DMI.

“The BBC also told us that it was using the DMI to make many programmes and was on track to complete the system in 2011 with no further delays. This turned out not to be the case. In reality the BBC only ever used the DMI to make one programme, called ‘Bang Goes the Theory’.

“The BBC was far too complacent about the high risks involved in taking it in-house. No single individual had overall responsibility or accountability for delivering the DMI and achieving the benefits, or took ownership of problems when they arose.”

Photo by break.things

DYKE: ‘BBC should be regulated by OFCOM’

DYKE: ‘BBC should be regulated by OFCOM’

The vultures are circling increasingly around Lord Patten, who has been savaged – and is still under fire – for his handling of a series of problems, including the Savile inquiry and the House of Commons’ prolonged investigation into excessive pay-offs to senior executives.
Latest to join in the attack on the BBC chairman is Greg Dyke, the former BBC director general who was forced to resign in 2004 because he handled the corporation’s response to the Andrew Gilligan-Hutton inquiry ineptly.
It was alleged that instead of being on top of the journalism, and understanding where it had gone wrong, he thought – as those at the BBC so often do – that he could bluster his way through theissues of journalistic integrity that were raised, and rely on the stock BBC response of ‘we know we are right, because what we do is (almost) always right’.
Noticeably, Mr Dyke chose as platform for his ‘Patten is a busted flush’ attack on the BBC’s favourite newspaper, the Guardian.
Noticeably, too, Mr Dyke has called – in effect – for the BBC Trustees to be dissolved, a chairman appointed and future regulation (from the start of the new BBC Charter in 2016) to be allocated to Ofcom.
But would that solve any of the BBC’s problems? The core issue, as News-watch research has repeatedly shown, is that its journalism is not at all ‘independent’, or impartial, but dominated by left of centre thinking. Institutionally, it cannot see this, and refuses obstinately and systematically to countenance otherwise. Or to even discuss the issue, as the Commons EU scrutiny committee has found.
At the same time, Ofcom – a giant Quango set up by the last Labour government that costs £130m a year to run – has been accused by MPs such as Philip Davies of being dominated by bureaucrats who are drawn from exactly the same liberal-left mould as the current BBC Trustees (including Lord Patten). It is headed by Labour-supporter and placeman Ed Richards. Greg Dyke – who himself is a declared left-of-centre activist who supports both the LibDems and Labour – knows this. Perhaps that is why he wants Ofcom to take over.
In reality, it wouldn’t alter a thing about BBC journalism, but would make its control even more bureaucratic and immune from criticism.