David Keith Elstein (born 14 November 1944), is Chairman of openDemocracy.net and an executive producer at Portobello Films.
Early life and career
His parents were Polish orphans who were brought to Britain by the Rothschild Foundation, and ran a ladies' outfitters in Golders Green. On a scholarship, he was educated at Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School, before gaining a place to read History at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, gaining a double first. After graduating at the age of 19, he became a trainee at the BBC in 1964. Most of his first year at the BBC though, was spent on attachment to the new Centre of Cultural Studies at Birmingham University.
At the BBC he worked on Panorama and The Money Programme. His subsequent production credits, include for Thames Television, the The World At War and This Week (of which he became editor) and elsewhere Weekend World, A Week In Politics, Yuri Nosenko, KGB and Concealed Enemies.
Director of Programmes at Thames
After a period as an independent producer working on programmes broadcast by Channel 4, he rejoined Thames Television as Director of Programmes in 1986. In this role in 1988 he signed off the controversial programme "Death on the Rock", an edition of the This Week series about Operation Flavius, the shooting in Gibraltar of three unarmed members of the IRA.
Blamed in part for Thames losing its franchise to broadcast at the end of 1992, Elstein delivered the previous year's MacTaggart Memorial Lecture at the Edinburgh Television Festival. In his speech he mocked what was now an auction as Mrs Thatcher's "National Lottery", criticised the Conservative government for behaving with "spite" towards ITV and said that the franchise round had been "a death on the rack to make up for 'Death on the Rock'." Elstein had hoped that a clause in the Broadcasting Act 1990 would save Thames thanks to its past reputation, since underbidding Carlton, the eventual winners, had been a deliberate choice. Elstein though, found that "the exceptionality clause wasn't worth the paper it was written on."
After his time at BSkyB as head of programming, he launched Channel 5 as its Chief Executive in 1997. Elstein has also been Managing Director of Primetime Productions and Managing Director of Brook Productions Ltd.
Other career highlights
He has been a visiting Professor at the University of Westminster, University of Stirling and University of Oxford, having been the inaugural Visiting Professor in Broadcast Media at Oxford in 1999. His six lectures there were entitled "The Political Structure of UK Broadcasting 1949-99". The lecture series was published in 2015 as an open access eBook by meson press. Elstein was the lead author of the Broadcasting Policy Group's publication, "Beyond The Charter: The BBC After 2006" (2006). He advocates changing the funding model of the BBC and replacing the licence fee with voluntary subscription.
He is also a director of Kingsbridge Capital Advisors Limited, and was previously a supervisory board member of two German cable companies. He has also chaired Screen Digest Ltd, DCD Media plc, Luther Pendragon Holdings, Sparrowhawk Media, the British Screen Advisory Council, the Commercial Radio Companies Association, Really Useful Theatres, XSN plc, Sports Network Group plc, Silicon Media Group, Civilian Content plc and the National Film and Television School. He was also a director of Virgin Media Inc and Marine Track Holdings plc.
- Charlotte Higgins "The BBC: there to inform, educate, provoke and enrage?", The Guardian, 16 April 2014
- Sabbagh, Dan (29 August 2007). "Business big shot: David Elstein". The Times. London.
- "David Elstein", BBC News, 14 May 1999
- David Elstein "'Death on the Rock': 21 years later and still the official version lives on", openDemocracy, 23 November 2009
- Sue Summers "Media: One of the walking wounded - David Elstein, a victim of the ITV shake-up, tells Sue Summers about his fears for quality commercial television", The Independent, 26 August 1992
- "Newsnight" (26 November 2009)
- Who's Who, 2006
- Debrett's People of Distinction, 2006