U.K. broadcasting execs to discuss trust scandal


EDINBURGH -- BBC director general Mark Thompson, Channel 4 CEO Andy Duncan and ITV executive chairman Michael Grade will meet next month to discuss how broadcasters in the U.K. can win back the trust of audiences following the rash of fakery scandals that have tarnished the industry, Duncan revealed Friday at the MediaGuardian Edinburgh International Television Festival.

The U.K.'s top broadcasting execs will review how they can work together to change industry practices and management structures so that television processes are more transparent. They also will discuss setting up formal cross-industry training processes.

"We will hold discussions about common issues. This is a conversation that has emerged between everybody," Duncan said, adding that the broadcaster is already working with the Five Channel to put together a code of conduct for independent producers who receive commissions from the networks.

"It's partly about making sure that, with each show, there is a body of experienced and fully trained production staff so that you can reassure yourself that you have got the right skills in place," Channel 4's Duncan said during a panel discussion addressing the issue of trust.

The broadcaster has dropped all premium-phone line competitions as a result of finding that its call-TV procedures left thousands of viewers paying to enter competitions they could not win.

BBC director of vision Jana Bennett said that the broadcasters already are working on common practices for phone and text-based competitions and will offer other broadcasters access to the training program that all BBC employees will have to undergo.

"We'll offer training materials to the industry, we have interactive case studies for producers. We see this as a benefit to the industry as a whole, not something that stops with BBC staff," she said.

The issue of trust remained at the top of the agenda at this year's Edinburgh TV festival, dominating the James MacTaggart memorial lecture that kicked off the three-day festival.

Delivered by BBC2 "Newsnight" host Jeremy Paxman, one of the U.K.'s foremost political interviewers, Paxman warned that broadcasters need to "rediscover a sense of purpose" to retain the respect of viewers.

"There is a problem. Potentially there is a very big problem. It has the capacity to change utterly what we (broadcasters) do and, in the process, to betray the people that we ought to be serving," Paxman told the packed audience in Edinburgh's McEwan Hall. "Once people start believing that we are playing fast and loose with them routinely we've had it."

Paxman said that industry bosses cannot blame the problems that have afflicted the industry on junior producers.

"I don't think it will do for senior figures in this industry to stay hunkered down, occasionally lashing out at young people in the business or setting up inquiries of one sort or another," he said. "What is needed is a manifesto, a statement of belief."