Ian Burrell's Media Diary

The 'Sport' is going up in the world
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The Independent Online

In the normal scheme of things it is every editor's dream that his or her newspaper should provoke debate in the House of Commons.

You might think, then, that Tony Livesey of The Daily Sport would be happy that his organ, 20 years old this year, is the subject of intense interest from a cross-party group of MPs, who will be meeting at Westminster on 7 March.

But not so. The normally garrulous Livesey, a regular on tabloid telly "Best of/Worst of/from Hell" shows, doesn't want to talk about the impending discussion of the future of his paper.

Unlike Claire Curtis-Thomas, the member for Crosby, who has convened the meeting and is only too happy to speak about it. Curtis-Thomas dubs the Sport, once beloved by students for its National Inquirer-style sightings of Elvis riding Shergar in outer space, as "nothing more than a sex mart".

The MP says that the paper is "worse than Playboy and Penthouse", and should no longer be allowed to keep such distinguished company as the Daily Star and The Sun on the bottom shelf in newsagents.

She tells me: "It has the subtitle of being the funny paper and at one time it was - "My Auntie Married An Alien"-type pieces - but over a period of time it has declined into the most pornographic and obscene piece of literature on the shelves."

With adverts such as "Genuine Dogging Babes" and Sport news headlines like last Thursday's scoop, "Cop Cleared of W*nking In His Car", Curtis-Thomas has even sought guidance from the Speaker so that she does not cause offence to other MPs when she raises the matter in the Commons.

In the meantime, she is rallying the Rotary and Lions clubs, along with church groups and children's organisations, to bring pressure to bear on WH Smith and John Menzies to put the Sport on the top shelf. Plans are being made for placard-wielding protests outside newsagents.

Heaven forbid that those protests are extended to the Sport's printers, West Ferry (owners the Barclay brothers and Richard Desmond). Watch this space...

ORANGE, LANCOME, AUDI, Harper's Bazaar, Esquire, Claridge's, Taittinger and Kirin Beer all recognised the value of being associated with the red carpet glamour surrounding last night's Bafta awards. But one would-be Bafta partner was notably absent from the proceedings.

The London Evening Standard had done its best to get its name on one of the awards categories but was, according to a source, "given short shrift" by Bafta.

The Standard, of course, has spent more than 30 years building up its own British film awards. At their height, they were televised and staged at the Savoy before an audience of 400 distinguished guests, such as Madonna and Tony Blair. This year, however, the event - a humble affair involving dinner at The Ivy for 20 people - passed almost unnoticed.

The winners, including Natasha Richardson (who had flown in from the US) and Ralph Fiennes were surprised to find they would not be taking away anything weighty for their mantelpieces. Fiennes got to his feet for the Standard photographer and was pictured holding a half-consumed flute of fizz. Belts are being tightened across the press industry and Associated Newspapers is no exception.

HATS OFF TO THE Standard, however, for running Nick Cohen's outspoken attack on the sniffing, tooting, snorting and bugling double standards of the "media elite" ("A Hypocrite's Drug of Choice", 15 February). Readers of The Observer, for whom Cohen also writes, nearly benefited from a similar polemic, but - alas - an attack on the evils of cocaine inhalation was not seen as a good fit for the shiny, new-look Obs.

TALKING OF SNOW, the presenters of the Radio 4 Today programme are thinking ahead to a skiing trip planned for later in the spring as a way of building esprit de corps. Presenters James Naughtie and Edward Stourton and several of the production team are off for a long weekend. Of course, there is no question of it turning into some unseemly competition despite Naughtie having just headed out to the Alps on a separate skiing excursion in order to hone his skills.

THE NEW PUBLISHING director of Hello! magazine, Charlotte Stockting, is promising that the title will move away from its cosy roots and become more "confrontational" in its editorial policy. She replaces Sally Cartwright, who becomes director-at-large, and will work closely with Spanish sister publication Hola!. For Cartwright, this will mean closer relations with the octogenarian Doña Mercedes, the kindly queen of the Hola!-Hello! empire, who still oversees page lay-outs from her home in Madrid where, eschewing computers, she sketches out designs for the fashion pages by hand, her faithful son Eduardo at her side and her poodle at her feet, nibbling on biscuits.

'THE SUN' MIGHT sell for 35p in England and Wales but, from today, it will be available in the west of Scotland for the extraordinary price of 10p. What is News International playing at? The simple answer is, of course, a price war with the Daily Record. But the cut has left newsagents tearing their hair out as they see their margins being suppressed yet again. "We have had no increase in margins from The Sun for four-and-a-half years. If the journalists at NI had no pay rise for that time they would be screaming about it," says one irate vendor. "It means we are walking down the garden path to deliver The Sun for 6.96 pence."

The newsagent points out that Scottish newspaper buyers were happy to shell out £1.50 for a takeaway cup of coffee and could "tuck a newspaper under their arm for 10p". He says: "It's madness. The industry should be driving the price of newspapers up but we newsagents are supposed to sit here and take it." None of which seemed to be on the mind of Sun editor Rebekah Wade as she joined News of the World editor Andy Coulson in shaking a tail feather on the dancefloor at parties for EMI and Universal records on Wednesday night after the Brit awards.

COULSON SPENT MUCH of last week dealing with his talented and immaculately maintained picture editor Paul Bennett, who incidentally was an usher at Barbara Windsor's wedding. First Bennett resigned. Coulson refused it. Then Bennett resigned again and Coulson, this time, accepted it. At the time of going to press, the former Mail on Sunday and Sunday Mirror man was still resigned.

i.burrell@independent.co.uk

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