Raymond Snoddy on media: TV's self-flagellation is over the top

Most marketing directors are paranoid - and with good reason. Even football managers have a greater sense of job security. But if last weekend's MediaGuardian Edinburgh International Television Festival is any guide, it is the entire TV industry that needs to hop up briskly onto the psychiatrist's couch.

As Jeremy Paxman, delivering the main lecture of the festival, put it, there has been 'a catastrophic, collective loss of nerve'.

Everywhere you looked, someone was berating themselves about the loss of trust over everything from the phone-line scandals to dodgy marketing of programmes. A kiosk offering cut-price hair shirts would have done a roaring trade.

Channel 4 chief executive Andy Duncan fretted over fears that it could take years to win back the viewers' trust and went in for a bit of public self-flagellation by 'resting' Celebrity Big Brother.

The BBC's Jana Bennett worried that there might be something deep in the culture that led to the programme fakery.

The distinguished documentary maker Paul Watson mused that his long career might be over because of the slight mis-selling of an Alzheimer's documentary. The poor love had been turned over by lawyers ludicrously released by ITV executive chairman Michael Grade. A legal investigation over an ambiguous phrase in a press release that in no way affected the content of an excellent programme? That way madness lies.

BBC One controller Peter Fincham, he of the Queen walking in the wrong direction fame, entered into the general self-abusing spirit. Fincham was not sure whether the documentary depicting a year in the life of the Queen would now be shown. Stiffen your resolve lads. Show it. The promotion may have been off-key but, again, the actual documentary is completely unaffected.

We will now have to endure an autumn of expensively produced official investigations into behaviour that ranges from the heinous to the almost laughably trivial.

Very necessary investigations into the near-criminal activities over phone lines have been mindlessly swept up alongside a host of unrelated misdemeanours to create a mood of general hysteria.

As for Paxman, he was on an elegant, passionate loop doing what he does best - asking the same question over and over again. What is television for, asked the great man repeatedly without making much of a fist of providing any answers. He had an opportunity to make a small piece of broadcasting history - and fluffed it.

BBC Trust chairman Sir Michael Lyons asked Paxo, if he could make one change in the BBC, what would it be? And this was the fairy godfather who could make his wish come true. The audience willed Paxman to say the Beeb should drop some service - say, BBC3 for the sake of argument - to release funds for the programme improvements he sought. Instead, Paxman waffled on about taking out layers of commissioning editors.

There was one question the Newsnight interrogator was very lucky not to be asked. In his lecture Paxman revealed that he had known about some of the phone scandals a year before the story broke. It would have been nice to know why he appears to have done nothing about it.

There has to be real worry now that the industry will spend too much time beating up on itself to do its job. Channel 4, for one, has decided to embark on 'a creative overhaul' that will remove tired if popular programmes. Silly old viewers, to like that sort of thing. The result, Channel 4 happily admits, will be falling ratings.

Then, right at the end of the festival, came the confirmation that television executives were absolutely right to be as paranoid as marketing directors. In the closing lecture, Google guru Vint Cerf warned that television as we know it is dead anyway.

30 SECONDS ON ... JEREMY PAXMAN

- A native of Leeds, Cambridge graduate and fly-fishing enthusiast, 57-year-old Paxman began his career in local radio before moving to Belfast, where he spent three years as a reporter. In 1977 he moved to London to work on Tonight; in 1979 he joined Panorama.

- After five years, he was asked to present the Six O'Clock News, then Breakfast News. In 1989 he joined Newsnight.

- Paxman also presents BBC Radio 4's Start The Week, chairs University Challenge and writes non-fiction books. In 2006, Radio Times readers voted him the fourth-scariest celebrity on TV (chef Gordon Ramsay topped the poll).

- Not all those present at his MacTaggart lecture were hanging on Paxman's every word; one Scandinavian journalist reportedly took the opportunity to clip his nails and make a call on his mobile, drawing tuts from those around him.

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