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Last Updated: Saturday, 25 August 2007, 03:50 GMT 04:50 UK
Paxman voices concerns over BBC
By Kevin Young
Entertainment reporter, BBC News, Edinburgh TV Festival

Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight

Presenter Jeremy Paxman has voiced concerns over the BBC and the TV industry as a whole during a lecture at the Edinburgh TV festival.

He criticised the licence fee as a tax on the ownership of a television which he said was 50 years out of date.

Recent deceptions uncovered across the industry had been handled in a "preposterous" way, he said.

He also questioned whether his own Newsnight programme will survive if the BBC proceeds with threatened cutbacks.

The journalist added that too many senior executives were "less concerned with content and a lot more concerned with bottom lines".

'Preposterous spectacle'

Paxman referred to issues such as phone-in quizzes which viewers were unable to win and scenes that had been edited to distort reality.

"We've had the preposterous spectacle of some of the most senior figures in broadcasting running around like maiden aunts who've walked in on some teenage party, affecting shock and disbelief at what they've heard," Paxman said.

I find it pretty hard to believe some of the television bosses when they say they had no idea what was going on

"It simply won't wash for senior figures in the industry to blame our troubles on an influx of untrained young people."

He also said the licence fee was outdated.

"The idea of a tax on the ownership of a television belongs in the 1950s. Why not tax people for owning a washing machine to fund the manufacture of Persil?" he said.

At the same time, he said, it was "something of a mystery" to him how there could be a "budget crisis in an organisation with an assured income of 3.5bn".

Paxman also said Newsnight, broadcast on weekday evenings on BBC Two, could no longer "make the films we once made" after its budget fell by 15%.

"We have lost producers, researchers and reporters," he told an audience during the James MacTaggart Memorial Lecture.

"Now we're told we're likely to have to make more cuts, at least a further 20% over five years.

Paris Hilton
Paxman also criticised coverage of hotel heiress Paris Hilton

"It is unsustainable and I cannot see how the programme can survive in anything like its current form if the cuts are implemented."

He described efforts "to get a single, important film transmitted last week" which had meant "surviving a sustained barrage of astonishingly aggressive lawyers' letters" as well as pressure from a PR company.

"You can't do that if you're replacing grizzled output editors with people on work experience, no matter how enthusiastic they might be."

He said there were too many people in the TV industry "whose answer to the question 'what is television for?' is to say 'to make money'."

'Media circus'

Paxman also questioned the judgements of news editors in deciding upon the significance of stories.

"The problem is that news is determined not by its importance but by its availability," he said.

"How else can we explain the decision to interrupt reporting of floods in Britain to go live to America breathlessly, to cover Paris Hilton's release from jail?

He also referred to a media "circus" which had gathered in southern Portugal following the disappearance of British girl Madeleine McCann, saying "everyone was there because everyone else was there".

"At times like this, when the television hurricane hits a story, it too often sucks good sense and consideration out of the brains of those involved."


VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
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SEE ALSO
Reporter's log: Edinburgh TV Festival
24 Aug 07 |  Entertainment
Public trust in TV 'has fallen'
23 Aug 07 |  Entertainment
A diary of Edinburgh's festivals
23 Aug 07 |  Edinburgh and East
Newsnight poll complaint upheld
22 Jul 07 |  Scotland
BBC sets up new standards panel
20 Jul 07 |  Entertainment

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