Renowned journalist Jeremy Paxman has said that a focus on profitability and a lack of professionalism in television journalism was harming the credibility of the medium.

The BBC Newsnight presenter spoke of the need for the industry to rediscover its "sense of purpose" during a speech at the Edinburgh TV festival.

"There is a fight going on for the survival of quality television right across this industry. The recent skirmishes and scandals have not gone our way.

"As an industry we need to lay out much more clearly what we’re doing and why. Let’s spend less time measuring audiences and more time enlightening them," he added.

The veteran presenter condemned the recent scandals over premium phone-in shows and called for senior executives to be held responsible for defrauding the public.

"My point is this: if we allow the belief to take hold that the medium as a whole is guilty as charged, for it to be reduced to the abject, commercial amorality of much of the worldwide media, British television won’t be worth working in.

"We should all get out and do something more worthwhile… if we’re going to stay here, we have to rediscover the purpose of this medium."

Mr Paxman said that trust was the "defining problem of contemporary television". He pointed to the example of the controversy over the trailer of a BBC documentary with misleading footage of the Queen as an example.

"The useful thing about the example of the Queen is the way it demonstrates the changing imperatives, the variety of operators, the confused lines of accountability, the fact that money intrudes at every stage," Mr Paxman said.

Mr Paxman claimed that senior television executives were "less concerned with content and a lot more concerned with bottom lines". He added that commercial considerations were at the forefront of decisions about what content is produced.

"There are too many people in this industry whose answer to the question what is television for? is to say 'to make money.'"

He also criticised the coverage of Paris Hilton's release from jail.

The presenter said the story had interrupted coverage of the flood situation in Britain and was proof that "news is determined not by its importance but by its availability".

The BBC Newsnight presenter also criticised the BBC for dwelling on administrative issues rather than on the quality of programming.

"It [the BBC] was comprehensively outmanoeuvred by the Treasury in the last licence fee settlement, so that it is now committed to spending nearly one and a half billion on things – whether they be the cost of digital switchover, on-demand, building office blocks in Salford – which have nothing much to do with sole purpose of its existence, which is to produce worthwhile programmes," he added.

Mr Paxman said he could not understand why the BBC was in "budget crisis" when it had a guaranteed annual income from license fees.

He also revealed that Newsnight had been required to make budget cuts of up to 15 per cent over the last three years which he said was harming the quality of programming.

"Now we’re told we [are] likely to have to make more cuts: at least a further twenty percent over five years. It is unsustainable, and I cannot see how the programme can survive in anything like its current form if the cuts are implemented," he added.

Speaking about what the role of the BBC should be, he said: "The BBC is going to have to justify its existence not by the way it broadcasts or the buildings out of which it works, but by what it broadcasts.

"We seem, far too often, to lose sight of this. Articulating a clear sense of purpose and expressing it through much better protection of the defining brands is more persuasive than producing the occasional piece of tea-towel television celebrating the glories of Britain," he concluded.

25/08/2007 12:50:26