Mark Thompson, controller of BBC2, told the Royal Television Society that Food For Ravens deserved an earlier slot and that it had been an error not to wait until one came available. But he denied the claim made by Mr Cox in The Independent newspaper on Sunday, that the scheduling of the programme was evidence of a "dumbing down"on the channel.
"Look at what we ran that weekend," he said. "It wasn't exactly low rent. We had Correspondent, The Works, I Caesar ... a film commissioned from Werner Herzog, Douglas Hurd's The Search for Peace, The Money Programme and at 10 o'clock, the most sensible time for Food For Ravens, an even tougher piece of original drama."
However, Mr Thompson did accuse Channel 4 of abandoning its commitment to challenging programmes: "Cutting Edge has now crossed an invisible boundary into the completely mainstream. Its running order of football wives, women drivers and The Sport [newspaper] wouldn't look out of place on ITV or Channel 5."
Mr Thompson also accused Channel 4 of deliberately courting controversy in the press in order to attract publicity for its programmes: "The ramped up, the storm in a tea cup, the phoney scandal is rewarded with previews, features and comment while better, truer work is overlooked," he said.
As evidence of BBC2's commitment to serious programming he announced that Charles Dicken's dark last novel, Our Mutual Friend, would be aired on the channel along with Richard Eyre's National Theatre version of King Lear.