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Thompson to fight for C4's public status

LONDON - Mark Thompson, the newly appointed chief executive of Channel 4, vowed that he will fight to retain the broadcaster's public status and denied that the job was a stepping stone to the top job at the BBC.

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Thompson, who made his comments as he was introduced to the media this afternoon, said he did not believe the channel could retain its "independence in creativity, diversity and innovation" if it was privatised.

His comments were rubber stamped by chairman Vanni Treves, who said: "We are clear that we can not fulfil Channel 4's remit as we understand it in a privatised context and we do not believe it is the current intention of the government to privatise it."

Thompson, currently director of TV at the BBC and who joins Channel 4 in March, dismissed reports that he is using the position at Channel 4 as a stepping stone to give him the experience he needs to successfully challenge Greg Dyke for the position of BBC director general when his contract expires in 2004.

Thompson said he hoped to be at Channel 4 for "years to come", and that his new post was the only thing on his mind.

Speaking about the channel's current situation, Thompson said he believed that its current programming budget was secure, despite suffering its first cut of 3% earlier this year.

He added that the company's commercial arm 4 Ventures, which is currently undergoing a restructuring, would not threaten the quality of the channel's programming budget.

Thompson heaped praise on the channel's current schedule, singling out So Graham Norton and The West Wing as among some of the best programming on UK television.

He said that Big Brother had been a breakthrough in programming and was an example of the way in which Channel 4 was able to take risks, something he said it would continue to do.

Thompson also quashed speculation about a previously strained relationship between him and director of programming Tim Gardam, who he worked with at the BBC and whose job appears to be safe.

Thompson also took steps to respond to comments that he did not have the business nous to run a commercial enterprise. He said, "I see myself as part of a team that has commercial experience. At the BBC, I have a budget of just under £1bn to manage and I have long experience of dealing with the cost side of TV. I am also a director of UK TV [the BBC's joint venture with Flextech], involved in BBC America and a joint venture with Discovery."

Thompson replaces Michael Jackson, who quit earlier this year to join USA Entertainment, a division of USA Network.

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