Birt tapped for lecture in Edinburgh

Ex-Beeb chief set to share

LONDON — John Birt, the former BBC topper turned media adviser to Prime Minister Tony Blair, will be the keynote speaker at this year’s Edinburgh TV Festival, Blighty’s premier gabfest for webheads.

Birt will give the 30th MacTaggart Lecture in August, when he is expected to explain why he believes the BBC should not be the sole beneficiary of the TV license fee.

The last time Birt gave the MacTaggart — when he was BBC director-general in the mid-’90s — he appealed for more coin for the pubcaster.

Now he believes that unless rival commercial channels get a share of the fee, they will broadcast only ratings-driven shows.

As a former director of programs for commercial channel LWT, now part of ITV, Birt backed a number of upscale programs.

These included current affairs skein “Weekend World” and arts platform “The South Bank Show.” All have been either axed or marginalized.

Birt of late has been involved in a bruising spat with ex-colleague and rival Michael Grade, the present BBC chairman.

Grade, judged by last week’s pre-legislative document the Green Paper, has argued successfully that the pubcaster must retain an exclusive hold on the license fee.

But Birt still hopes to influence the debate before the fall publication of another government policy document on the BBC. This White Paper will be the final big policy pronouncement before the pubcaster’s Royal Charter governing its practices and funding is renewed next year.

Previous MacTaggart lecturers include Rupert Murdoch and Ted Turner.

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