Mark Thompson set for anti-Sky broadside at Edinburgh

BBC Director General Mark Thompson is expected to deliver a “head-on” challenge to the corporation’s critics in a keynote speech on Friday night.

He is among the great and the good of the broadcasting world gathered in Scotland for the Media Guardian Edinburgh International Television Festival.

In an email sent to BBC staff, Mr Thompson promised to use the MacTaggart lecture to lay out his view of the future of television and make the case for the corporation. He said: “It’s time to take on some of the BBC’s critics head-on.”

Recent years have seen the BBC come under fire from both inside and outside the corporation. Staff are currently being balloted on whether to take strike action over plans to reform its pension scheme and its rivals accuse it of being overly-powerful.

Last year, News Corporation director James Murdoch used the lecture to deliver a withering attack on the BBC, accusing it of a “landgrab” and saying the size of the corporation was a “threat” to independent journalism.

According to the Daily Mail, Thompson will tonight hit back at Murdoch pointing out at the vast wealth of Sky, which had revenue of £5.3bn last year – a figure well in excess of the BBC’s £4.66bn turnover.

Professor Steven Barnett, the author of the official history of the BBC, called on politicians to stand up for the corporation in the face of criticism.

He said: “There are a lot of powerful voices against the BBC, as we saw in James Murdoch’s lecture this time last year. They will be hostile to Mr Thompson’s speech, but our politicians must be prepared to recognise and stand up for the public interest rather than vested self-interest.”

The lecture, dedicated to the memory of actor and producer James MacTaggart, was delivered by some of the biggest names in broadcasting including Jeremy Paxman, Ted Turner and Rupert Murdoch.

Among the luminaries at this year’s festival are Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media & Sport Jeremy Hunt MP, Coronation Street founder Tony Warren, Mariella Frostrup, Michael Grade and Katie Price.

Controllers from the major channels, including Jay Hunt (BBC1), Peter Fincham (ITV1) and Julian Bellamy (Channel 4) will be discussing their channel highlights.

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