The Word on the Street
Tuesday 03 November 1998
IT'S TEMPTING to imagine that conspiracy and the hand of Sir John Birt lay behind the infamous BBC memo forbidding programmes from mentioning Peter Mandelson's sexuality. But the truth is that one person, namely Anne Sloman, the Beeb's chief political adviser, simply, of her own accord, went a bit haywire. Normally, decisions about such things would be taken by Phil Harding, the controller of editorial policy and former editor of the Today programme. But, as luck would have it, Mr Harding was on holiday when the Mandelson controversy erupted, so Ms Sloman consulted only Richard Ayre, the deputy chief executive of news and current affairs, before drafting what is being described by programme-makers as "the most ludicrous BBC memo in recent history".
WHILE RADIO 4's News Quiz had to be urgently re-edited so that all references to Mr Mandelson's sexuality were excised, the television version, Have I Got News For You, went ahead and re-played the Newsnight clip of Matthew Parris outing the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. Sources at the BBC are convinced that the ban was less effective at HIGNFY because: a) it is made by the independent production company Hat Trick; and b) because HIGNFY is incredibly successful. So the BBC knows Hat Trick could take the programme to Channel 4 in a flash if the corporation tried to interfere with its satire.
TODAY IS the first day of the mental health charity Mind's annual conference. The big theme for the year is a concerted effort to stamp out prejudicial representations of the mentally ill. The media's use of words such as psycho, nutter and loony are to be targeted by a complaints team. A good week then for Channel 4 to announce a drama serial for next year called Psychos, which is set in a Scottish asylum.
NO MATTER how bad some critics think Radio 4 is these days, news comes from Los Angeles to make us thankful not only for the BBC, but also for what's left of our own public transport system. K-Traffic 1650 AM is exactly what it sounds like: an all-day, all-traffic reports radio station.
Using the slogan "Give us five minutes and we'll get you there", K-Traffic promises not to miss a sudden brake light or wonky stop sign in all of LA's miles and miles of freeway. Still, it is likely to be more interesting than Shula Archer-Hebden's love life.
MUCH AS newspapers love their lists they inevitably lead to trouble. Two weeks after The Sunday Times's ridiculous "power list" downgraded Rupert Murdoch to below Conrad Black, The Observer had equally strange priorities. Presumably making Alan Rusbridger, the editor of the 400,000- circulation Guardian more powerful than Charles Moore, the editor of The Daily Telegraph - which has a circulation of 1m plus - and Piers Morgan, the editor of the 2m-plus Mirror, is nothing to do with the Guardian man being editor-in-chief of The Observer.
It was almost as dubious as making Michael Jackson, the chief executive of Channel 4, more powerful than Matthew Bannister, the BBC's head of production. Of course the prominence of Jackson can have nothing to do with Channel 4's joint involvement in the list.
And making Matthew Freud less powerful than David Yelland, the editor of The Sun, might be seen by some to be getting the relationship between The Sun and Freud's PR agency the wrong way around.
A GLORIFIED pub quiz took place last week on behalf of the Newspaper Press Fund which used teams of hacks and exposed the personalities of newspapers better than their pages normally do. The over-serious Times entered "A" and "B" teams and held internal competitions to see who got to be on the "A" team with the assistant leader editor Mary Ann Sieghart. The Telegraph, of course, brought along a team of octogenarians and the Sun team was accused of using their mobile phones to call the Wapping library for answers. The winner was the upmarket women's magazine Harpers & Queen. It won thanks to getting a score of 15 out of 15 by naming all the weights in professional boxing - one wonders if the Sloane Rangers who read it know what kind of people are writing for them.
The Independent will only reveal what position it came in if someone here will admit to being on the team.
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