BBC Director General: 'Why James Murdoch Is Wrong About the BBC'

8:52 AM PST 08/25/2011 by Mimi Turner
Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images

On the eve of the Edinburgh TV Festival, Mark Thompson rebukes James Murdoch, telling him: "Integrity... not profit, who you know nor what corners you can cut" is what really counts.

EDINBURGH - They say that revenge is a dish best served cold. BBC director general Mark Thompson has waited two painful years to deliver a celebrity smackdown to James Murdoch, whose 2009 attack on a  BBC he claimed was "chilling in scale" and throttling commercial ambition made headlines around world.

In an article marking the opening of this year's MediaGuardian Edinburgh International Television Festival, Thompson has rounded on The News Corp deputy COO's now-famous MacTaggart lecture, saying the toxic fallout from the News of The World hacking scandal now gave it "an unexpected and almost tragic irony."

Rupert Murdoch's youngest son had used the speech to attack the BBC and media regulators. He dismissed the ambitions of license-fee funded BBC television and told an ashen-faced audience that News Corp's view was that "the only reliable, durable and perpetual guarantee of independence is profit." At the time, Murdoch was in charge of the News International newspaper group that has come under severe political and police scrutiny for alleged criminal behaviour that may have been widespread.

Murdoch's focus on profit marked what the BBC boss said was "the high water mark not just of one strain of economic and moral purism about media, but also of the singular deference with which that purism was accepted for so long by so many."

"It's a phrase which sums up his [James Murdoch's] entire case; that all forms of public intervention in and regulation of media are both morally reprehensible and practically useless," Thompson wrote in the Guardian newspaper, the Edinburgh TV Festival's main sponsor.

"Yet it was under just these conditions - the lightest of light touch regulation, minimal oversight and accountability, commercial considerations to the fore - that the catastrophe at the News of The World unfolded," Thompson said.

In the two years that have elapsed since 2009. Mark Thompson has had to accept a series of painful cuts to both the BBC's budgets and its ambition, shrinking the $6 billion-a-year broadcaster by as much as 20%. At the same time it has retreated from a number of sectors including online and magazines, following criticism in the speech.

Alhough he said he agreed with James Murdoch's desire to protect newspapers from as much scrutiny as broadcasters face in the UK, the BBC director general saved his sternest rebuke for the News Corp deputy COO and BSkyB chairman for last, in an essay that will have cheered many in the BBC.

"The only reliable, durable and perpetual guarantor of independence is not profit. Nor who you know. Nor what corners you can cut. It's integrity."

The phone-hacking revelations have forced News Corp to abandon its takeover of BSkyB, close down the 163-year old News of The World and focus management time on a series of criminal investigations that have seen 12 former staff arrested, including Rebekah Brooks and Les Hinton, two of Rupert Murdoch's closest confidantes.

The tectonic changes wrought by the hacking scandal will be much discussed over the next three days in the bars and corridors of the Edinburgh TV Festival, although their discussion does not form part of the merry-go-round of panels, speeches and screenings, perhaps proving too controversial for conference organizers.

Elsewhere at the Festival, Google CEO Eric Schmidt will deliver this year's MacTaggart on Friday, telling delegates that the internet giant needs creativity and content.  Other highlights include a masterclass with Ricky Gervais, an analysis of Downton Abbey, a screening of The 9/11 Decadeand interviews with all the main channel heads. The festival kicks off Friday 26 through Sunday 26.

 

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