Matthew Norman's Media Diary

A lover of Murdoch and Motörhead
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The Independent Online

What a frantic week for John Whittingdale, who so insolently presumed to replace my friend Gerald Kaufman as chairman of the Commons media select committee. One minute John was pressing for public money to be diverted from the Beeb to commercial broadcasters, the next he was regretting commercial network ITV's decision to abandon political programm-ing by scrapping The Sunday Edition. It's always nice to hear from this affable fan of Heat magazine and the music of Motörhead, but I do slightly wonder how well-suited he is to protecting newspaper independence after reading a new book (well, 1996 is new enough) by Andrew Neil. In Full Disclosure, Andrew recounts how, when he was poised to put The Sunday Times behind Michael Heseltine's 1990 leadership challenge, John took a hand. Via a friend, he warned Andrew that if he persisted, he would speak directly to Rupert Murdoch and ask him to put a stop to it. Nothing terribly wicked there, I suppose, given that John was Mrs Thatcher's political secretary at the time. Even so, does someone who threatened to lobby a proprietor whom he well knew had promised Parliament never to interfere in the Sunday Times's editorial policy have a keen instinctive grasp of what constitutes press freedom? By the way, when asked once which media figure he most admires John replied: "Rupert Murdoch". On reflection, maybe he is the right successor to Gerald after all.

John has long shared his media pin-up's antipathy towards the BBC, so he'll take a particularly dim view of the scandalous decision by some bulletins to add a soundtrack of infant wailing to pictures of those quintuplets. This was a disgrace by any standards, not least those of the Murdoch tabloids that routinely bug mobiles, bribe coppers for information, and so on. Assuming it's back from the invisible mender's (last time we checked, the garment was disintegrating through overuse), I assume director general Mark Thompson will soon be donning the hairshirt yet again. For if ever a deception required one of the grovelling apologies that are this DG's signature dish, this is it. Whether the quins intend to pursue the matter with Ofcom or through the libel courts is a matter for them. But it is a matter for us all when BBC news staff deliberately mislead viewers by creating the false impression that newborn babies sometimes cry.

THAT BAFFLINGLY underrated political interviewer Fiona Phillips, the Larry King of GMTV, enchants readers of her Daily Mirror column with reflections on a traumatic week. Not only did she run out of loo roll, she reveals, but she was horrified to learn that Frank Lampard, Chelsea's badge-kisser-in-chief, "is a bloody Tory!" who admires David Cameron – something she suggests is the result of brain damage caused by heading the ball. I had a vague idea that television presenters who interview politicians were rather expected to keep their political bias to themselves. Then again, maybe the convention only applies to the BBC. John Whittingdale might care to advise on the point.

IN THE Daily Mail, Richard Littlejohn considers a glossary of helpful terms in a Home Office book designed to help immigrants settle in. This displeases him, so Richard appends an alternative A-Z list of his own, casting a wide net over cultural influences in a bid to capture the essence of Britishness. The one that leaps off the page is: "U is for Up Yours Delors". It seems odd to include an ancient headline from The Sun, Richard's previous employer, about a long forgotten Eurocrat of whom no immigrant is likely to have heard. Unless, of course, it's a coded message. Rebekah, love, kill the fatted calf. I honestly think he's ready to come home.

WRITING ON Friday, I am crazed with impatience for last night's first episode of BBC1's The Blair Years, in which David Aaronovitch interviews the former PM about his time in office. Will David, who inches ever closer to wondering out loud whether Iraq was such a spiffing idea after all, take this chance to reinforce his image as a rigidly independent analyst of New Labour, thus establishing himself as a rival to Fiona Phillips? I have no doubt he will, and look forward to celebrating this next week.

If David does prove as brutal an examiner of Mr Blair's record as his many fans anticipate, one person who won't have enjoyed the show is Polly Toynbee. Polly detests the sceptical interviewing techniques of John Humphrys and Jeremy Paxman, she tells an online magazine, holding their harshly sceptical manner partly responsible for the lack of love the public feels for its leaders. She makes a quite brilliant point. Far better to accept dinner invitations at Chequers, and be seen at party conferences kissing Cherie Blair on both cheeks. That way, the love might seep through to television viewers, and even readers of political columns. Those BBC monsters have much to learn.

RETURNING TO John Whittingdale's media idol, finally, we come to occasional feature Rupert Reads The Runes. Last week we went back to 2003 to find the old boy citing, as his main reason for supporting the Iraq war, the global economic benefits of the $20 per barrel crude oil that would ensue. Today, he considers George Bush's place in history. Shortly before the invasion, Mr M told Newsweek that he judged it a 1-2 odds on chance that Mr Bush would "go down in history as a very great President ...One senses he is a man of great character and deep humility." Indeed, indeed.

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