Elisabeth Murdoch defends negative family comments in Post MacTaggart Q & A

The morning after the night before, Elisabeth Murdoch was forensically cross-examined by Guardian journalist Steve Hewlett during a revealing Q & A session at the Edinburgh TV Festival. During the session, Hewlett pressed Murdoch to elaborate on her disavowal of her brother James's claim in his MacTaggart lecture three years ago that profit is the only effective guarantee of editorial freedom.

Elisabeth Murdoch stated she "wasn't trying to directly contradict James" in MacTaggart lecture

When asked why she had decided to use the platform she'd been given to address the problems that have beset News Corp, Murdoch said: "it's been a nightmare year for my family and I thought it was time to stand up and be counted."

She vainly tried to soften the impact of her attack on her brother, claiming: "I wasn't trying to directly contradict James in any way," and absolutely denied that her speech was the start of a campaign to anoint herself as the new heir to her father's throne, "I really harbour absolutely no ambition for that top job."

In her speech, Elisabeth Murdoch had used an excerpt from her father's 1989 MacTaggart lecture to suggest that he, like her, believes that profit should be the servant of the people rather than its master and that this makes Rupert Murdoch's philosophy much closer to her own than to that of her brother James. But Steve Hewlett put several quotes to her that appeared to demonstrate that her father is completely in accord with the views her brother had expressed in 2009. She dismissed these on the basis that they were out-of-date. (Even though one of these quotes came from the same speech that Elisabeth Murdoch had quoted fourteen hours earlier.)

Murdoch was more comfortable reiterating her support for the BBC: "it has an important role in the cultural ecology." She feels that the corporation has learned from its mistakes and there is now "a real sense of accountability to every single licence payer". When Hewlett asked whether her brother James felt the same way about the BBC, she said: "I don't know, you'd have to ask him."

Asked why she had praised Dennis Potter during her speech, Murdoch denied that she had and pointed out that she had merely quoted him approvingly. She thought it "sad" that Potter had named his tumour Rupert but said she'd "forgiven" him for it.

When Hewlett asked her what she thought had gone wrong at News International, Murdoch replied: "there are hundreds of people and millions of dollars being spent trying to answer that question" and refused to be drawn any further into a conversation about the affair beyond confirming that she was the first member of the family to recognise that Rebekah Brooks had to go and denying that she had ever told her brother that he'd "fucked the company".

After twenty-eight minutes of sustained questions about the scandal that has engulfed the family business, a flustered Elisabeth Murdoch looked over her shoulder and addressed an appeal to Hewlett while looking for sympathy from the audience: "I thought you were going to ask me about television."

During the next phase of the discussion, Murdoch stressed the "importance of a second screen strategy" and heaped praise in the direction of the new wave of broadcasters like SB.TV's Jamal Edwards whom she identified as providers of the next generation of broadcasting innovation.

When questions were invited from the audience, The Drum asked Elisabeth Murdoch about the use of the word 'current' in her declaration of support for the BBC's licence fee: "were you repenting past sins or were you suggesting your support might change in the future?"

Her answer was unequivocal: "I was suggesting my support might change in the future," she said ominously before adding, "but I don't mean that to sound ominous."

When pressed about the conditions that might lead her to change her mind about the licence fee, Murdoch hypothesised about a betrayal of trust by the BBC and suggested that everyone would refuse to pay if the corporation became unaccountable.

Despite his admirable cross-examination, Steve Hewlett didn't manage to uncover the reasons behind Elisabeth Murdoch's decision to use the MacTaggart lecture to attack her brother but much of the softness that had characterised her speech the evening before was rubbed away by some difficult questions and her toughness was plainly evident by the end of a fascinating session. This, in its own way, was very revealing.

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