Jeremy Paxman on the future of television

Jeremy Paxman (a living deity if you ask me) gave a very thought provoking speech recently at the Media Guardian Edinburgh International Television Festival. The speech, The James MacTaggart Memorial Lecture titled Never mind the scandals: what’s it all for?, looks at the problems of television, some of the causes of these problems, and the future of television.Paxman says there is a problem with television, and “the problem is not going to be addressed until senior people in this industry have the courage to come out and state quite clearly state what television is for.” He also asks, What is Television For?There are lots of great points, and some of the highlights are:

  • that all television is artifice to some degree – that all television is somewhat manufactured, and it has to be, but there needs to be confidence between the medium and the audience
  • commenting on Tony Blair’s comment that the media is a pack of feral beasts, Paxman says Blair makes an excellent point, defining “the source of the problem as hugely increased competition, which makes impact by far the most important consideration in broadcasting, because impact gives competitive edge”
  • asking what is television for, Paxman sees little evidence of anyone grappling with the problem, or even know how to attempt to grapple with it with a “catastrophic, collective loss of nerve.”

Jeremy also goes to talk about politics and new media. Some of the points here are:

  • “The Web, we’re told, makes expensive, professional broadcasting a thing of the past. But the problem with blogs is the same as their strength: they don’t operate by conventional journalistic rules about checking facts, and they’re unencumbered by any thought that there might be more than one side to a story. The blogosphere is a place where everyone can scream and no-one needs to listen. Rather than making an attempt at fairness irrelevant, it seems to me it actually makes it more necessary.”
  • “The anxiety about irrelevance expresses itself in obsessions with the red button, with interactivity, fatuous opinion polls, podcasts, ‘multiplatform 360 degree programming’, etc, etc”
  • The BBC (except international services such as the World Service) is funded by a licence fee, and Paxman asks if, what in effect is a tax on ownership of television, is relevant in this day and age, and then, “what about material intended for television which is viewed through an iPlayer, for which no licence is required?”

Paxman concludes “We need treat our viewers with respect, to be frank with them about how and why programmes were made, to be transparent. We need, in short, to rediscover a sense of purpose.”To read all of Jeremy Paxman’s speech, go to,,2155874,00.html

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