David Yelland's Media Diary
Monday 28 March 2005
The thought occurred to me the other evening when I was reading to my young son Alan Rusbridger's charming little children's book
The Wildest Day at the Zoo, just published by Puffin.
The thought occurred to me the other evening when I was reading to my young son Alan Rusbridger's charming little children's book The Wildest Day at the Zoo, just published by Puffin. Rusbridger's book, which he finished last summer when on holiday away from The Guardian, is set in Melton Meadow Zoo, where all the keepers, inspired by the rhino keeper, have grown tired of their charges. The result is All Change Day - a one-off event in which the head keeper, Mr Pickles, allows each of his keepers to swap jobs. The consequences, needless to say, are severe and - if you are six years old - hilarious. Gadzooks! I suddenly thought, reading the book for the umpteenth time: Isn't this the very solution to Rusbridger's current dissatisfaction with the pro-tabloid turn of events at the British Press Awards? Just to recap, dear readers, 10 or 11 editors are threatening to pull out of the Awards after the News of the World won newspaper of the year and The Sun scooped five awards. They also did not enjoy the spectacle of Bob Geldof standing up and haranguing various newspapers over Africa.
Much is made of the lack of any possible comparison between the "heavies" and the "red-tops", but I just wonder whether progress might be made if each understood the challenges of the others. Wouldn't they all understand each other better if they had an annual All Change Day on Fleet Street? Just imagine it: Simon Kelner at The Sun, Rebekah Wade at The Guardian and Paul Dacre at The Guardian... It could even be done on Red Nose Day, with all the cash going to Africa - that should keep old Bob happy.
Mind you, it might end badly. As a warning, here's a few lines from very near the end of Rusbridger's book: "By lunchtime on All Change Day, everything was back to normal. The police, fire brigade, ambulances and army had all gone back to their bases; the animals were all back in their normal houses ... and Mr Pickles had gone home for a lie-down." Hmmm. Just like the Press Awards then.
* My much-maligned friend Charles Allen at ITV and BBC1's new controller, Peter Fincham, have each been attacked in the past few days for their downmarket or celebrity-driven schedules. Yet I have before me, open on my desk, the Good Friday schedule across the gamut of BBC radio, television, Sky and the terrestrial commercial sectors including ITV. Nowhere in the world would I have more choice. From original drama on Radio 4 to live performances of Radio 3, comedy on BBC 7, Sky Movies and quality TV in the evening. The truth about broadcasting in the UK is that the BBC's licence fee and Rupert Murdoch's digital multi-channelling at Sky have combined, ironically, to give us a better choice than any other country in the world. There is much rubbish around. But why watch it?
* Maurice Saatchi and Guy Black are thoroughly decent men with talent in abundance; two of the most gifted communications specialists of their respective generations. But, oh dear, oh dear, how they must have felt when news reached them of Howard Flight's revelations about spending cuts. I think this is quite the worst public relations disaster of any campaign in recent times. The reason is that Flight, the Tories' deputy chairman, has handed New Labour a weapon they can use again and again.
It matters not that Michael Howard moved to fire Flight and even force him out as Tory candidate at the upcoming election. The point is that Flight's words ring true. In terms of PR, I genuinely believe they mean the death knell of any possible chance the Conservative Party had.
* On a totally different subject... I don't always agree with Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti, but I do admire her as a media performer. Chakrabarti, an LSE-educated barrister, is only in her mid-thirties, but time and time again she outwits Government spokespeople on radio and TV.
Her TV presence is assured and collected, cool and confident. More importantly, she is persuasive. She wins the argument on merit, no matter who she is up against with her calm manner and mastery of her subject. She has managed to win on air against both David Blunkett and Charles Clarke. She also connects with young people - a rare talent in the current environment.
I've never met her and, as I say, I often disagree with her, but if she ever fancies party politics, she has immense national potential. She makes most politicians look pedestrian.
David Yelland is Senior Vice Chairman of Weber Shandwick. He edited The Sun from 1998 to 2003.
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