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Edinburgh, no matter how pronounced, means TV debates.

The congregation inside the half-filled church, on a gloomy Sunday morning, was mostly TV producers discussing the mundane topic of European Commission TV legislation.

They suddenly became alert as thunder erupted in the blackened skies outside and lightning flashed across the stained-glass windows. All eyes were suddenly directed at the giant cross hanging on the wall behind the seminat's speakers. Everyone soon realized it was just an earthly storm and not the Second Coming, but the resulting laughter brought some relief to a rather ponderous debate.

The juxtaposition of the uneventful and unforgettable, exciting moments summed up this year's Edinburgh International Television Festival. The four-day event saw the most concentrated gathering of UK media folk at the architecturally idyllic capital city of Scotland, which is also renowned for its very changeable weather.

The annual event,now in its 17th year, is designed to encourage debate about one of this century's most capricious and controversial professions. Nearly 1,000 delegates,including the media people, attended--a slight increase compared with last year.

The festival is usually funded by contributions from industry. Voluntary organizers, who comprise most of the festival, were initially disappointed when some regular sponsors hesitated to come up with the financial goods. "But they rallied in the end so we made only a small loss," explained Flora Gregory, the festival's director.

The festival has also attempted to broaden its international profile. "We are having an increasing number of delegates from abroad," said Gregory. Last year, Eastern Europeans and the Japanese were very conspicuous. This time, North Americans were prominent participants.

A large number of the attendants spent the evenings propping up the bar at Edinburgh's centrally located George Hotel, which acts as the festival organizers' temporary headquarters.

Topics of conversation would focus on the more than 30 sessions and forums held in hotels, churches, TV studios, theaters and marquees during the daytime. It is then that you see ambitious program producers, carrying resumes and project ideas, darting from one session to another hoping to bump into that elusive TV executive desperate to commission their brilliant ideas.

For several veteran delegates, the debates covered old ground--ratings, scheduling, the future of TV drama and factual programming, ethnic minorities on British screens, whether TV glamorizes crime, and new technology. They have heard it all before.

And newcomers were left bewildered by the uncompromising stance taken by some of the experienced panelists who were more interested in preaching than teaching. "What makes you think the youth programs on your channel are what I want to see," one young delegate asked a leading BBC executive. The BBC boss stood his ground and repeated that what is transmitted should satisfy all young viewers. There appeared to be no room for flexibility on his part.

However, both the old hand and the novice could not fail to feel the impact of certain charismatic speakers and some heated debates. Michael Grade, chief executive of Channel 4, gave the festival's traditional opening speech: his lecture was a virulent attack on the BBC's current management style. He promptly set into motion the most intense discussion on the Corporation's future.

The Worldview Speech, which adds an international angle to the issues, was given by that Canadian maverick Moses Znaimer. The founder of the "studioless" CityTv in Toronto used the platform to spread his view on local TV services and why they are needed to complement the globalization of most media concerns.

As the Worldview guest, Znaimer was following in the footsteps of previous speakers--Time Warner boss Steve Warner and Compagnie Luxembourgeoise de Telediffusion's Gerard Le Febvre. Festival organizer Gregory pointed out, "The Worldview Speech was set up three years ago to discourage the British TV industry, which is renowned for its navelgazing, from being too introspective." Znaimer, who refuses to wear a tie, certainly gave the conservative British something to think about. Audiences at his speech admitted admiration for his vision, which was shown on film. But they could not decide whether it was appropriate for the UK.
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Title Annotation:Edinburgh International Television Festival
Publication:Video Age International
Date:Oct 1, 1992
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