Murdochs, BBC fortunes radically altered
EDINBURGH — For the third time in 23 years a Murdoch set the agenda at the Edinburgh Television Festival — but this time the Murdoch doing the talking sounded more like a true Brit than a chip off the old block.In her lecture Elisabeth Murdoch, chairman of Shine, declared that Blighty had “a unique and priceless television ecology” while “profit without purpose is a recipe for disaster.” This was a swipe at younger bro, James, who three years ago used the same platform to proclaim that “profit is the only guarantee of independence.” Rupert’s second oldest daughter praised the BBC at the gabfest, which wrapped Aug. 25, and even hailed the late, great British TV dramatist Dennis Potter — himself a Murdoch naysayer who famously named the cancer that killed him “Rupert.” The consensus among the 1,500 or so Edinburgh delegates was that Murdoch’s MacTaggart was a blatant attempt to detoxify the News Corp. brand — and position herself to grab the reins at the media conglom when Rupe finally exits. “She is the caring face of the Murdochs,” reckoned ITV entertainment topper and festival executive chair Elaine Bedell. Others begged to differ and detected self-interest as the real reason behind the love-in with the pubcaster. “How can she bad mouth the excesses of the Murdochs while at the same time accepting her father’s money?” said one festival goer. “It was a very disappointing MacTaggart.” Shine, bought by Rupert last year for $674 million, makes big shows for the BBC, including international bestseller “Masterchef” and family drama “Merlin.” Unusually, the BBC itself emerged from Edinburgh unscathed — apart from a call to dismantle the org by Scotland’s first minister, Alex Salmond, that was not given serious consideration. As the closing Edinburgh session on the TV coverage of the Olympics made clear the Beeb is on an unprecedented high. During the Games, the BBC’s domestic reach leapt to a staggering 52.1 million. “Beijing was 42 million and we’d been expecting 45-46 million for London,” said Roger Mosey, the BBC exec who masterminded the U.K coverage. Referring to the feel-good factor still evident in Blighty as it readies itself for the Paralympics, he added: “We need to step back and ask ourselves if the world really has changed.” With a Murdoch now a BBC cheerleader, from the perspective of the Edinburgh gabfest planet TV looks a different place. But Elisabeth Murdoch’s attempt to clean up Brand Murdoch in the U.K. is unlikely to wash for long. This fall sees the first trials for phone hacking getting underway and one of those in the dock is ex-News International CEO Rebekah Brooks.
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