It’s time for Mark Thompson to face the music

Tonight Mark Thompson, director general of the BBC, will make what could possibly be the defining speech of his Corporation career when he takes to the stage in Edinburgh to deliver the MacTaggart lecture.

Facing an internal struggle with staff over pension cuts and fresh attacks from commercial competitors, the coalition government, and a licence fee paying public, Thompson will have to use his talk at the MediaGuardian Edinburgh International Television Festival to face his, and the Corporation’s critics, and justify his vision of where Auntie is headed in the coming years.

“It’s time to take on some of the BBC’s critics head on,” he told staff earlier this month, who are unlikely to be blown away by Thompson’s sudden commitment to answering the mudslingers.

To say Thompson’s time at the BBC has been controversial would be an understatement. But tonight shouldn’t be about him attempting to justify his own role at the BBC – he needs to do justice for the Corporation itself.

In doing so, sources say that he will “cite audience research showing that the BBC is more popular than ever among licence fee owners,” reports MediaGuardian.  There is even speculation that he will hit out at one of the BBC’s fiercest critics – BSkyB’s Rupert Murdoch.

Unfortunately, a slanging match is unlikely to reassure anyone that Thompson is the man who can whisk away the gloomy cloud hovering over BBC HQ. Thompson took over from Greg Dyke in acrimonious circumstances; the Hutton inquiry diminishing the BBC’s reputation and executive overspend angering the public were just two of the obstacles in Thompson’s way before he could put his own stamp on the BBC.

Unfortunately, Thompson’s stamp has proven to be out of touch with those who criticise him and the Corporation so vehemently. Nowhere was this summed up more than when Jeremy Paxman put the director general on the spot during the 6 Music debate (see the video below, with added The Thick Of It for emphasis).

Thompson’s days at the BBC may be numbered. But before he goes, he needs to use the MacTaggart lecture to put the case for the BBC forward, and ensure that it remains a cornerstone of British broadcasting. Because if he doesn’t this could be the beginning of the end.

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