Shurely shome mishtake?

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The Independent Culture
Something just doesn't seem right. When the editor of Private Eye, Britain's one determinedly debunking satirical journal, signs a Web site deal with the monolithic Microsoft Network, jibes of the strange bedfellow variety are likely to follow. Is nothing, fond readers of The Eye must be asking, sacred?

Are Lord Gnome and Bill Gates perhaps together on the golf course at this very moment? Are they by any chance related? We think we should be told.

It is certainly a development that has the smack of a "wind up" about it. Private Eye, as we know, has worked hard to earn a reputation as the scourge of the commercial imperative; and it has never been any friend at all to the kind of men who run large corporate empires. With this in mind, an editorial alliance with Microsoft starts to look like David asking Goliath for a leg-up so he can get a better shot.

Eye readers may also wonder exactly how a magazine that trades on its dissident, bashed-out-on-a-backroom-typewriter appearance can suddenly assume the slick trappings of the multimedia age. How could Web designers ever replicate the grubby anarchic look of the printed Eye?

Yet, in spite of all this, it is true. The Eye's MSN site, developed by NoHo Digital, went live last Friday and the magazine's editor, Ian Hislop, was there to bless the launch with the observation that he had been a huge fan of the Net for at least five minutes. "And I personally," he added, "will now make a point of using it as often as once a year."

Hislop says he will he keep tight editorial control of the site. He has personally selected the sections of the magazine that will appear on screen.

"I don't want anything with Private Eye's name on it to be run by someone else," he explained. "I think it will sit alongside the magazine well. It will be good for us without competing."

Hislop rejected the idea that there could be any censorship from MSN. "We have had no interference and we would not have expected any," he said.

Referring to the random pie attack on the Microsoft chairman in Belgium last week, Hislop said: "I think that if Bill Gates can accept a custard pie in the face then he can live with a few rude jokes. Don't you?"

If anything, Hislop argued that it is the lack of censorship which is the problem with the Internet. The absence of legal liability means that what you read on screen is much less authoritative than the printed word. "I wish the Net was better for stories, but so often when you chase something up it turns out there is nothing firm there."

Tip-offs might occasionally prove useful, he said, citing the example of the Monica Lewinsky story, which first appeared on the Net, but generally he felt online reporting was unreliable and that was why the new Eye site would reflect only the jokey side of the magazine, rather than its campaigning pieces or the more probing political lampoons.

"People keep saying to me 'you must love the idea of not having to worry about libel', but they are missing the point," he said. "I don't just put things in Private Eye for fun, I put them in because I believe they are true."

Vanessa Thorpe