Matthew Norman's Media Diary

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The Independent Online

At the risk of seeming self-indulgent, I begin today with a direct plea to Andrew Neil in his capacity as publisher of The Spectator. With the magazine having starred in its own television special on Saturday, and with Michael Wolff preparing a lengthy Vanity Fair analysis of the coitial sagas that so enlivened last year, fears grow that Andrew is considering some fundamental changes in both personnel and style. I hope I speak for us all when I ask him to do no such thing. The world of current affairs journalism has become wretchedly staid, with publications insisting on the highest standards of personal and professional behaviour. In this puritan desert, you cannot overstate the Speccie's importance as one last oasis of cavalier individualism. The erotic achievements of its senior staff are too well chronicled to need repeating here, so let's confine ourselves to a brief appreciation of such contributors as dear old Paul Johnson, who confirmed his reputation as the voice of icy reason a while ago with 1,000 words on the vision he had in his sitting room of London being obliterated by a thermonuclear missile; of Simon Heffer, the Enoch Powell-besotted author of that superbly balanced and factually accurate leader on Liverpool; and of High Life columnist Taki, the onetime house guest of Her Majesty for cocaine importation, who twice in the same piece referred to a black man as "sambo". The policy of care in the community has been largely discredited in recent years, yet here we see it working perfectly, keeping these souls happy and occupied in much the way making macramé pot plant holders is believed to do in state-run institutions. For them, and for those of us with media diaries to fill, we beg Andrew to show clemency and leave this asylum in the hands of its residents.

* It has been said perhaps too often of Esther Rantzen that she is the woman who cares, if anything, too much. So it's great to see her finally carving out a little time to think of herself now that she's reached the age of 64. Not content with doing a photo shoot for Closer magazine wearing fishnet, Esther also took a page in the Daily Mail to relate the horrified reaction of her daughters. They in turn followed up with another page in the paper to reiterate their horror (next Tuesday's Mail will carry a piece in which Esther writes of her horror about their horror; the girls will duly respond on Wednesday), but. I can't see why they feel this way. All she's trying to is earn a living. And whatever the Mail (increasingly a kind of shelter home for women no longer able to find work on the telly) is paying her, a feeling in my water says that the fishnetted Esther could double it trying her luck down Shepherds Market. Or possibly as a personal adviser to Wayne Rooney.

The same newspaper also carried our Letter of the Week. "It was mentioned that the Daily Mail wasn't shown on the morning Frost show," writes Margo Walsh from Radstock in Bath. "This is nothing new ... This, coupled with other glaring discrepancies and biased reporting or 'non-reporting' has ruined my trust in the BBC." Walsh's right. How typical of the so-called liberal BBC that David Frost, in his slot reviewing the Sunday papers, invariably ignores the Daily Mail. Thank heavens they're canning his show.

* I'm sorry to read that Tessa Jowell's husband, David Mills, may be tried in Italy alongside Silvio Berlusconi on charges relating to the laundering of money and the evasion of tax. For all her bewildering foolishness over the gambling bill, Jowell's by no means a bad, old girl, and in some ways she's been a good secretary of state for the media, first appointing Michael Grade in succession to Dykey and now seeing off the demented attempt by the noble Lord Birt to avenge himself on Grade by destroying the BBC. Normally, it would be hugely embarrassing for a cabinet minister to have a spouse poised to share leg-irons with so corrupt a semi-fascist thug as the Italian PM. However, since Tony Blair has form of his own as a Berlusconi accomplice (he once spent 45 minutes on the phone to him trying to fix a satellite television deal for Rupert Murdoch; not to mention all those summer hols chez Silvio), I suspect it won't stop Jowell picking up a nice post-election promotion.

As to who'll replace Jowell as media supremo come May when they're handing out the portfolios, I will be forming a book on this in the coming weeks. Gerald Kaufman will start favourite, needless to say, and I'm thrilled to report having palled up with a neighbour of his in a St John's Wood mansion block, who may provide just the sort of highly intrusive information to focus Kaufman's mind anew on the kind of privacy legislation his media select committee occasionally likes to discuss.

* There is no room this week for journalistic blogs, but we hope to render unto the gorgeous Julia Caesar that which is her's next week. And thanks to all of you who responded to the question: is there a more depressing 11-word sentence in the English language than 'And now on Radio 4, time for Midweek with Libby Purves'. In truth, no one managed it - the closest attempt being to turn it into a 17 worder by appending: "And after that, You and Yours."

m.norman@independent.co.uk

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