Matthew Norman: A BBC chief in need of media training

Sir Michael seems quite antique enough already for some tastes, and yoked to
standards of politesse barely seen since Lord Altrincham was ostracised from
society in 1957 for describing the Queen’s speaking voice as a pain in the
neck. Responding to words from new culture, media and sport secretary Ben
Bradshaw, Sir Michael asked him to refrain from “personal criticism”.
What Ben (entirely unbriefed by Newsnight producer-husband Neal Dalgleish,
by the way; they keep an exquisite Chinese wall down the middle of the bed)
said is that senior management should “show some leadership”,
which looks more like an attack of their professional competence.

Personal criticism might be to ask Sir Michael what, in the name of sanity, he
imagines he’s doing by taking a 30 per cent rise in his pay package (with
taxable benefits doubled) when money for journalism is so squeezed… and
just for spending extra days doing his job. That sort of pay structure is
fine for agency nurses and others paid by shift, but it looks eccentric for
the holder of such a privileged post. If he’d spent the extra £15,000 on
media training, you might understand it. On last week’s form, apparently not.

Mum’s the word

Elsewhere in the Beeb, that venerable ageism debate spreads from rancorous
newsreaders to Arlene Phillips’s shock removal as a judge on Strictly Come
Dancing. Many take a dim view, none more so than the Daily Telegraph, which
so scrupulously avoids cover flashing its younger and sexier lady columnists
on the front page. On Friday, its third leader censoriously agreed with
Harriet Harman’s analysis that Arlene’s 66 years explain her firing. Bang
next to that, meanwhile, Genevieve Fox took the death of “world’s
oldest mother” Maria Bousada as her cue to rail against the wickedness
of mature women having babies. High time the British Press Awards added
Wittiest Self-Parodic Juxtaposition to the Oscars of our industry.

A bitter taste

Here at The Independent, the publication of the latest list of Chequers guests
causes the usual anguish, with not a soul from this group getting the nod.
Among those who did join the Browns for lunch were many from News
International, albeit chief executive-elect Rebekah Wade-Brooks seems to
have confined her evening to overnight merriment at Sarah’s Dionysian pyjama
parties.

Also making the cut, along with his former chairman Victor Blank (justly
rewarded for masterminding that brilliant RBS deal on behalf of Lloyds TSB),
was Daily Mirror political supremo Kevin Maguire. I wish to make it clear
that Kevin attended, as with that meeting of Damian McBride’s little cabal
of top-ranked smearers, in a purely private capacity.

Stop the press

Telly Scoop of the Week goes to the Mirror’s Nicola Methven. “Filming on
ITV drama Doc Martin is continuing apace down in the Cornish village of Port
Isaac, where the Doc’s girlfriend ? played by Caroline Catz ? was spotted
noshing on a pasty (what else?) on set,” reveals Nicola. “Question
is, was it part of the plot or was she just having a crafty snack. Tune in
next series to find out!” Sometimes it feels like only the nuclear
clock in Zurich will do to count the moments.

Dickie court out

A feeling in my bones suggests we may return to the libel trial between
Richard Desmond and Tom Bower once it’s done with.

For now, a word about the Express owner’s jaunt to see Lord Black in his
Florida nick, a trip that proved as futile (he wasn’t allowed in) as it was
touching. Asked in court why he wished to spend time with Conrad, subject of
the Bower biography in which the alleged libel appears, Richard replied “to
see how he was”. Bless him for that. Even Lord Longford never crossed
the Atlantic at his own expense just to check on the wellbeing of an inmate.

As for Richard’s remark that Rupert Murdoch is the media world’s Darth Vader,
this grotesque caricature will not stand. Look at any recent photo, and tell
me he isn’t Davros.

Wolff takes a bite

Rupert’s latest biographer, Michael Wolff, posits an intriguing theory about
the News of the World’s naughtiness. Writing on newser.com, he argues that
the interception of phone messages has as much to do with the boss’s craving
for gossip as selling newspapers.

“Gossip was one of the consistent themes in my conversations with
Murdoch… If I brought him gossip, he was much happier than when I did not.
It is a prurient interest…he refers to having pictures and reports and
files ? though this may be as much what he imagines a powerful person like
himself should have, whereas all he really has is some speculation from
sycophantic reporters feeding him what he wants to hear.” Disrespectful
rot and we’ll give it no house room here.

No laughing matter

Over at The Sun, finally, the man who once played Rupert’s Supreme Dalek
continues to delight. Contrary to popular belief, there is much more to
Kelvin MacKenzie’s column than providing a template for Gaunty’s effort the
next day, albeit these twin towers of opinion-forming tend to cover
uncannily similar ground.

“Do stop sending me these disgraceful Michael Jackson jokes,” writes
Kelvin. “The one I particularly objected to was: Jackson hasn’t been as
stiff as this since Macaulay Culkin told him he was coming over for the
weekend. Just stop it,” he concludes. “And no laughing either.”
Kelvin, my lovely, you may set your mind at ease about that.

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