Another catapult attack on the walls of the BBC has begun. The siege is gathering momentum. For how long can Castle Beeb hold out? The latest salvo is caused by the long running saga of the Digital Media Initiative (DMI) and the huge losses incurred by the BBC as a result of poor management. The most recent report by the National Audit Office (NAO) is a serious condemnation of the management at the BBC. Has the tarnished reputation of the BBC been self-inflicted or just the right-wing media venting spleen?
The gross outlay on the DMI project was £126 million, of which £99m was written off. Obviously in any other business, heads would have rolled. As of yet, senior management at the BBC have been spared the axe. Some have moved out but with suspiciously high inducement deals, which I assume, was to make leaving the sanctuary of the Beeb that much more palatable and, with silence guaranteed.
One of the key criticisms was that the project had “no single person in charge”, no line management but a committee of interested departments. Anyone who has served on committees will be aware that it functions on a host of personal interests and cliques, who shirk responsibility. According to the NAO, the executive, “applied insufficient scrutiny”, and did not have a “sufficient grip” on the project overall. Therefore it stands to reason that, “Reporting arrangements were not fit for purpose”. This catalogue of deficiencies clearly points to incompetence!
Who at the BBC decided to bring the project in-house? Was it senior management or a committee and, why was the contract with Siemens ended? The true ineptitude at this juncture was that no cost benefit analysis was carried out. I can’t get my head around the sheer naivety of the decision making at the time. It must have been a committee decision, that way no one person can be held accountable. Was the latter a purposeful rationale?
An earlier report commissioned by the BBC Trust carried out by the respected group PwC, concluded that problems should have been identified two years earlier. It appears that no one has a kind word for the BBC. Sack the bloody committee!
Further assaults by two longbow archers, who reputedly have a very accurate aim, are busy taking pot-shots at Castle Beeb. First in line is, John Linwood, a former manager, sacked in July 2013 without any golden handshake. (not one of the ‘boys’ then?) He may be described as somewhat bitter or as a scapegoat. His evidence will determine which one describes him. He suggests:
- That the BBC made ‘inaccurate statements’ to the Parliamentary Accounts Committee (PAC). Very Serious!
- That management via committee changed the ‘vision’ of the project.
The second longbow man is Bill Garrett, former head of technology. He suggests:
- That four years ago a number of staff falsified estimates of financial benefits of DMI to secure more funding. WOW! And thus:
- That the investment case for further funds for DMI was ‘fundamentally flawed’.
- Challenges evidence given by Mark Thomson, (previous Director General, April 2013) to PAC.
- That NAO was misled during their 2010/2011 investigation.
- That the PAC was also misled.
- Told the chairman of the BBC Trust, Lord Patten in May 2012 that DMI was doomed.
The project was finally scrapped in May 2013.
If the evidence presented by the two reports and the accusatory pieces by the longbow men prove accurate then the decision is straightforward. The Chairman of the BBC Trust should go immediately without compensation. Several senior managers should likewise be so terminated. I am not au fait with employment law, so my ruthless use of the axe may not prove appropriate. However, people can be identified and told there is no future for them and that there will be no settlement beyond the contractual one. Incompetence should never be rewarded!
One executive, Dominic Coles, Director of Operations, admits that they got DMI wrong (????) but did better with BBC iPlayer. Absolutely, iPlayer is a smash and anybody who is anybody is trying to emulate or improve upon it. He is quoted in the Guardian newspaper 28/1/2014 as saying that the BBC took swift action to overhaul other big projects. I have several problems with this response:
- The drawbridge had been left down.
- The PwC report said they should have been aware 2 years earlier.
- This is tantamount to admittance that many other projects lacked ‘sufficient grip’!
- A whole lot of mismanagement!
In the same Guardian article, Mr Coles is quoted as beginning a sentence, “DMI aside,” he continues with how well the BBC is doing in other areas. But let me rephrase Mr Coles words, ‘99 million pounds aside’: as if to imply that a loss of £99m is of little consequence. He should have attended a committee meeting before he spoke.
The BBC is beset with one public relations disaster after another. Bias is another long term one; the more recent Savile debacle, large pay-outs to departing executives and, most recently, workplace bullying. It would appear that the BBC defence strategy is to adopt a siege mentality. I assume that the hope is to be showered by dust which can be brushed off at some later date. Somehow, I don’t think it will be that easy. A siege only occurs when the enemy is determined to expunge the inhabitants. The sanctimonious appraisal of their position shows the BBC lack the wit to understand, that their walls of Jericho are more likely to come crumbling down, due to the act of blowing their own trumpets. The siege they endure has been self-inflicted.
Politically, the BBC may consider themselves, alongside the Guardian and Independent newspapers as a bulwark against the dominance of the right wing media. However, whereas the two newspapers have an audience to maintain and their niche market to cultivate; the BBC is duty bound to reach out to the population as a whole.
It would seem that the BBC and its management team have set themselves up as Gods of opinion, no longer reporting the news but directing people’s attention to a specific belief system. The BBC must serve all the people all of the time and, with clarity and with an objective mind.
You cannot fight bias with bias; it leads to a degenerative society. It can only be fought with a strategy the enemy cannot fathom, objectivity. Millions may read the right wing press but will turn to the objective speaker to learn and to come to a better understanding of events around them. Objectivity is the only defence that will withstand the test of time. Perhaps if the BBC had continued on the road of objectivity they wouldn’t be beating themselves up so regularly.