Should Elisabeth Murdoch Deliver the 2012 MacTaggart Lecture?

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The founder of global production giant Shine Productions is widely respected, but in the wake of the hacking scandal she could prove an unpopular choice.

LONDON – It is the biggest speech in the British media calendar. But a report suggesting that Elisabeth Murdoch  has been lined up to deliver the 2012 MacTaggart lecture has not been universally well-received.

A report in the Guardian, the event’s key sponsor, said Monday that the chairman and founder of Shine Group which owns such formats as Spooks, The Biggest Loser and Masterchef would deliver the annual lecture in 2010.

The report has yet to be confirmed by Festival organisers and representatives for Shine said they could not confirm or deny the story.

Murdoch, who is respected within the U.K. media community for building her production company into a major global force, would nonetheless prove a controversial choice to give the speech in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal that exploded in 2011, as well as her family’s recent history with the MacTaggart lecture.

Three years ago executives at Edinburgh endured a scathing critique of the BBC from James Murdoch - in a speech where the former BSkyB CEO now famously noted that “the only reliable, durable and perpetual guarantor of [media] independence is profit.”

In the wake of what has emerged about the extent of wrongdoing at the News Corp. division that James subsequently took over, that comment now looks like hubris, and some senior industry figures are warning that another MacTaggart from a member of the Murdoch family so soon may be a lecture too far.

“I have huge admiration for Liz and I respect the fact that she has kept well away from the News International scandals,” said one executive familiar with the MacTaggart selection process.  “But inviting her to deliver the 2012 MacTaggart?  Surely we don’t want another ritual kicking of the BBC after James’ performance a couple of years back. What about a new face for a change?”

Another executive suggested that Murdoch herself may decide not go through with the speech.

“My guess is that she won’t end up being there at the end of August,” said one senior broadcasting executive. “It’s too exposed, there’s too much attention and questions that she can’t expect to duck, but can’t really answer either.”

Last year Elisabeth Murdoch accepted an invitation to speak on a panel at the Edinburgh TV festival, but pulled out at the last minute because of fears that her talk on global production would be overshadowed by the hacking scandal - which had blown up the previous month.

In other quarters there is even less positive sentiment about the Murdoch name. At the Royal Television Society’s conference last Fall, former BBC director general Greg Dyke used the platform to claim that the main benefit of the phone-hacking scandal was that “never again will we have to listen to the self-serving garbage we heard from James Murdoch a few years back.”

If Elisabeth Murdoch does deliver the landmark speech, she would likely also face questions about the sale of Shine to News Corp., for $680 million, in a deal that boosted her personal wealth by more than $200 million.

The deal has aroused the chagrin of some News Corp. shareholders – who have mounted a legal challenge to the deal claiming that News Corp. boss Rupert Murdoch overpaid for an asset that no-one else was prepared to buy. Murdoch herself appeared to acknowledge unease about  the influence the Murdoch family has over News Corp. by very publicly last year turning down a seat on the News Corp. board that she had previously accepted.


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