It is being predicted that BBC director-general, Mark Thompson, is to put himself on a collision course with Rupert Murdoch in a spirited public defence of the corporation this evening at the Guardian Media Edinburgh International Television Festival.
Ahead of Thompson's MacTaggart Lecture this evening, the Scottish Daily Mail’s TV correspondent, Paul Revoir, writes: ”The broadcaster’s most senior official will put his own personal future on the line with a politically-charged speech …he will offer a ‘robust’ defence of the BBC at a time when it is under unprecedented political pressure over its spending and the salaries it pays to its stars.
“And he will tackle head-on criticism levelled at it by Mr Murdoch’s son, James, in the same MacTaggart Lecture last year, when he described the BBC’s scale as ‘chilling’.”
Revoir recalls that Murdoch, the heir-apparent to his father Rupert’s global media empire, also branded the licence fee which funds the BBC a “regressive tax” that penalised the poor, and said the Corporation’s dominance of the market was “Orwellian” and stifled broadcasting.
However, Revoir surmises that Thompson will point to the vast scale of Sky and its influence over the UK broadcasting industry.
He points out: “Although it has fewer television viewers than the BBC, Sky’s revenue last year was £5.3 billion, compared to the BBC’s £3.6 billion budget. In a speech lasting more than an hour, Mr Thompson will issue a rallying cry for publicly-funded broadcasting.
“He will warn that the broadcaster is a major national asset that has been built up over many years – and that opponents who want to knock it down should think carefully. And he will also draw comparisons with the low quality of programming in other countries that do not have an organisation like the BBC.
“The £800,000-a-year Corporation chief will try to bury criticism of the lavish spending which saw Jonathan Ross given a £18 million contract by pointing to the ‘crown jewels’ of its output – including Sir David Attenborough’s natural history programmes.”
Revoir claims Thompson will point to the importance of the BBC to public debate by highlighting Radio 4 – which has seen its audience grow consistently – and its General Election coverage. And the TV correspondent states that Thompson will highlight the public backlash against plans to abolish BBC 6 Music, the niche digital radio station, as an example of affection for the corporation, and praise its new critical and popular television hit Sherlock.
The Scottish Daily Mail story continues: “Mr Thompson will also warn critics that brands like the BBC are in short supply and should be protected, not dismantled. And although he will acknowledge public concern over executive pay, it is thought unlikely there will be any new measures announced today to curb it.
“The MacTaggart speech was described by one analyst as ‘critical’ to the BBC’s future. By launching a frontal assault on Mr Murdoch and his broadcasting empire, he risks creating tensions with the Conservative part of the Coalition at a time when relations are strained over the BBC’s spending.
“A source close to Mr Thompson said: ‘He wants to make clear to people why the BBC’s here and what it’s for. He wants to make clear the value of the BBC. He realises the BBC is not a perfect organisation but it will be a robust defence of what the BBC does and [he will refer to] the self-interest of the critics.’”
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