Thompson faces tough crowd at Edinburgh

Channel 4 head may answer to criticism on many fronts

EDINBURGH -- It was planned to be an address from arguably the most successful British career TV executive of his generation. But when BBC director general Mark Thompson stands up in Edinburgh on Friday night to deliver the prestigious James MacTaggart Memorial lecture, he won't be expecting laurels.

More likely he will be forced to answer a barrage of criticism on multiple fronts -- not only of his tenure, but also the state in which the public broadcaster finds itself in an unprecedented era of public sector austerity.

Thompson, who has been director general of the £4 billion a year British pubcaster since 2004, and was chief executive of Channel 4 before that, will deliver British television's equivalent of the State of The Union address at a time when the pubcaster faces criticism from the government, from its own governing Trust and from an army of his own staff and broadcast unions -- the latter in uproar about the level of planned pension cuts and excessive pay-levels for senior staff.

And that is even before Thompson addresses a damning critique courtesy of last year's MacTaggart speaker James Murdoch, chief executive of News's Corp's non-U.S. operations, which has hung over the BBC ever since.

Murdoch used his speech to lunch a devastating attack on the BBC, accusing it of being bloated, "chilling in its scale" and responsible for thwarting innovation and competition in the private sector.

Thompson's speech will set the tone for the four-day confab that annually takes the temperature of the British broadcasting industry and defines the policy framework for the year ahead.

Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt will respond to Thompson's MacTaggart when he gives his first major speech since the Conservative party won the general election in May.

Hunt is expected to reiterate his call for a lowered license fee settlement for the BBC and further disclosure on its senior talent and executive payouts.

On the final day of the conference, former ITV chief executive and BBC chairman Michael Grade will weigh in with his verdict on Thompson's tenure to date.

Away from high media politics, the conference will hear from tabloid star and former glamor model Katie Price, who will be interviewed by Dr Pamela Connolly, the host of "Shrink Rap," the psychological interview show.

Price will discuss how she has crafted a media career out of offering fly-on-the wall access to her family life and marital dramas, as well as her career as tabloid love--hate figure.

Elsewhere, "Doctor Who" showrunner Steven Moffat will be joined by Karen Gillan, who plays the Doctor's new sidekick Amy Pond, in a masterclass where he will discuss taking over the BBC's juggernaut sci-fi smash.

Moffat will also talk about his recent reinvention of "Sherlock Holmes" which stars Benedict Cumberbatch and sees the classic detective updated to the 21st century alongside crime-blogger and Afghanistan war veteran Doctor Watson.

Screenings will include Shane Meadows' coming of age drama "The Final Countdown," ABC Studios' "My Generation" and episode 1 of the new version of "Hawaii Five-0."

The Media Guardian Edinburgh International Television Festival runs through Sunday, Aug. 29.
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