The British people are losing trust in television and television is losing its way. That was Jeremy Paxman's message to broadcasting chiefs in the MacTaggart lecture last night, the keynote speech for the MediaGuardian Edinburgh International Television Festival at the McEwan Hall.
Paxman called for senior people in television to offer better direction in television, "a manifesto, a statemen of
He added, to applause, that the new generation of programme makers should not be used as a scapegoat. "It simply won’t wash for senior figures in the industry to blame our troubles on an influx of untrained young people."
Paxman tore through the media landscape with characteristic bullishness, criticising the current state of television programming in the UK, in a year beset with broadcasting scandals, such as the Richard and Judy phone-in fiasco and revelations of bold-faced lies by programme-makers. He compared his own employer the BBC to "Stalin's Russia," and regional television channels such as Granada becoming an "amorphous mass."
The problem, he believes, is that in a digital age saturated with wall-to-wall, always-on programming, the television industry has suffered from "a catastrophic, collective loss of nerve."
Paxman suggested that in this age of fragmenting audiences for television due to digital technologies, now was the time for the television industry to "rediscover a sense of purpose."
Paxman sounded almost old-fashioned, paternalistic in his proposition - although he was at pains to point out that this was not an old-fashioned view, but that television's role has never really changed. The industry should be focussing much more on its public service requirements rather than continually scrutinising the bottom line.
"It’s not that the television industry doesn’t have a compass. It’s that
too often it doesn’t even seem sure any longer that North exists," he said.
"Once you treat television as if it’s no different to running a fast-food empire, of course commercial judgements rule."
In true Paxman style he called for "less hyperventilating and more
deep-breathing" and for television people to "spend less time measuring
audiences and more time enlightening them."
Noble sentiments indeed but, Paxman when asked what this programming would look like, was less clear (prompting the host to echo one of his catchlines "you didn't answer the question").
Having deplored the current lack of leadership in the industry, Paxman suggested that in his streamlined vision of public service television, where middle management positions are stripped away so that programme producers deal much more directly with commissioning editors, many people in the hall would quite probably lose their jobs.
Text of the MacTaggart lecture