Flat Earth

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Press under fire

Archbishop Desmond Tutu cruelly said of the ANC that it stopped the gravy train just long enough to climb aboard. To listen to Nelson Mandela's rhetoric at the party congress - scripted, we are told, by his successor, Thabo Mbeki - it sounds like the old apartheid regime's propaganda machine will also be out of action only for as long as it takes for it to be reprogrammed.

Mbeki has been saying for some time that the government should have air time on the SABC to broadcast information bulletins, while his circle believes there should be a supervisory body for the media to decide, for example, what is newsworthy and what constitutes public interest - nothing damaging to the ANC, you can be sure.

The SABC used to be the white government's propaganda arm, but not even the paranoid PW Botha came quite so close to official control of the press as Mbeki seems to be planning. The cameras were there when Sharpeville and Soweto erupted, and the images they caught helped to bring down apartheid. Will they be there in future?

Getting the bird

You've heard that Rolls-Royce couldn't sell the Silver Mist in Germany, because "mist" turned out to mean "manure" in German, and that a soft drink called "Pschitt" (after the sound it makes in French when opened) unaccountably did badly over here. Now the BBC is danger of running into a cultural misunderstanding of its own in France.

A grande dame of my acquaintance, inquiring about receiving BBC television in Paris, was told by her local poseur des antennes, as they charmingly call aerial installers: "Ah! You want Hot Bird!" "Good God, no," cried the lady - all right, it was my mother - imagining that this was a porn outlet approximating to Red Hot Dutch, Channel X or similar.

It turns out, though, that following the sort of reshuffling of channels and operators we have been seeing lately, French viewers now get BBC World rather than BBC1, on satellite rather than cable. And, yes, the satellite is called Hot Bird.

Puppy hate

All The fuss over the new White House puppy has not impressed the unsentimental hacks at the Baghdad daily al-Iraq, which sneered that "the ugly adolescent" Bill Clinton "is treating his dog like a human being, while his people are drowning in a hell of drugs, unemployment and crime". (It adds for good measure that he has turned the White House into "a nightclub where he plays the music himself on the flute and guitar".)

The editors of al-Iraq would be positively nauseated by the latest issue of Dogs Today, which deals with challenging topics such as whether canines also suffer from winter blues. The cover story is about teaching dogs and cats to live together in harmony, something Clinton may find useful as he introduces Buddy, the puppy, to Socks, the First Cat, but it seems it will take a lot more to get the US and Iraq to curl up together in the same basket. Merry Christmas!