A year ago, Peter Fincham admits he came to Edinburgh with ‘a blanket over my head.’ In the midst of Crowngate, where he stood accused of showing misleading footage of the Queen to the press, he had to endure an hour’s public grilling from colleague Jeremy Vine. He resigned as BBC One controller in October.
This weekend in Edinburgh, Fincham walked through the front door with his head held high. Not only is he back in the top echelon of British television – as newly appointed Director of Television for ITV – this year he was asked to give Edinburgh’s keynote speech, the distinguished McTaggert lecture. While last year veteran journalist Jeremy Paxman began the McTaggert with the words: ‘Oh dear, what a terrible trade we work in,’ Fincham chose to set the tone of this year’s festival with a spirited defense of television as a creative industry, and a celebration of the medium.
Fincham’s message echoed throughout the three-day festival: the time for self-flagellation of the past year year is over, let’s celebrate that Britain’s television industry leads the world. In his address in front of most of the festival’s 2000 delegates, Fincham saved his most acrimonious remarks for OFCOM, the media regulator charged with navigating British broadcasting through increasingly choppy waters. Fincham railed against the regulator for its tortured language on public service broadcasting, and for expanding Reith’s famous definition of PSB from ‘inform, educate and entertain’ to a four pronged, 118-word definition ‘in the deathless language of the committee, each word carefully weighted, balanced and rinsed of all life and passion.’
Now head of an unapologetically populist brand, Fincham’s message was to not forget the ‘entertain’ in the Reithian formula: ‘It’s a medium whose fundamental aim is to entertain its audience,’ he told the audience at the outset of his speech. ‘Whisper it quietly – we’re in showbusiness.’