Biz looking inward at Edinburgh
TV festival examines scandalous year for U.K. industryMatters of trust will top the agenda at this year's MediaGuardian Edinburgh International Television Festival, which cranks up today, as an industry that has seen its reputation battered over the past year gathers to take stock of the implications and assess the fallout.
The scandals surrounding the "Year With the Queen" documentary and numerous call-TV deceptions that have besmirched the reputations of some of the U.K.'s best-loved shows including "Children in Need" and "Comic Relief" — to speak nothing of the reputations of the major broad-casters — will be the hot topic this year at the annual three-day pilgrimage to Edinburgh that unites broadcasters, producers and policymakers.
It will likely be standing room only for Friday's "Trust Me … I'm in Telly" panel, in which bigwigs including Channel 4 chief executive Andy Duncan, ITV director of programming Simon Shaps, BBC director of vision and Endemol U.K. chief creative officer Tim Hincks will discuss whether television has become an arena in which viewers are routinely deceived.
The panel is expected to look at each of the scandals to emerge in the past year and ask if it is time to be more open about television and its processes.
Other sessions likely to hit close to the bone on the trust issue include a masterclass with documentary maker Paul Watson, who recently accused ITV bosses of manipulating press coverage of his Alzheimer's documentary "Malcolm and Barbara: Love's Farewell."
Watson has publicly blamed ITV's press machine for selling the show as showing the actual moment of the death of musician and composer Malcolm Pointon after a 16-year struggle with the degenerative brain disease. In fact, his death occurred several days later off camera. The matter is now the subject of an internal ITV investigation.
Other hard-hitting panels are set to include "Terror Tapes: Broadcast and Be Damned," in which news execs including Sky News head John Ryley, BBC's head of "Ten O'Clock News" Craig Oliver and Al Jazeera senior presenter Jamil Azar examine the use of sensitive viewer videos and phone pictures in coverage of terrorist attacks.
But despite the focus on doom and gloom, the festival promises a fair amount of lighthearted relief for delegates who have had enough of soul-searching. Previous years have seen a slew of top executives cover themselves in ignominy — or glory, depending on to whom you talk — by taking part in one-off episodes of "The Apprentice" or singing competition "Stars in Their Eyes."
This year's highlight will see execs risk life and limb by taking the wheel of super-fast Formula One racing cars in an effort to emerge as the winner of the battle of the laps.
BBC creative director Alan Yentob, MTV networks executive vp Heather Jones, former BBC 3 network head Stuart Murphy, Betty TV founder Liz Warner and BBC Worldwide director of content and productions Wayne Garvie will compete in the one-off version of the motor show "Top Gear," which will screen Friday.
Edinburgh screening highlights, meanwhile, include "Dirty Sexy Money," upcoming ITV drama "Whistleblowers," interactive Bebo show "KateModern" and "Journeyman."
Partying, networking and Edinburgh's famous nightlife also will be high points of this year's conference, which occurs smack in the middle of the city's famous Fringe Festival, a comedy and drama extravaganza that takes over the Scottish capital in August.
Recent research commissioned by Discovery Networks found that the TV festival's several thousand delegates slept an average of just three hours a night and consumed about 20 units of alcohol each during the event, with as many as three-quarters of attendees admitting to being hung over every day.