Matthew Norman's Media Diary - Media - News - The Independent

Matthew Norman's Media Diary

I'm sure Huw will master Arabic

IT MAY be a shade previous to start worrying about the threat to the BBC's status as the planet's pre-eminent news broadcaster, but this poaching of presenters by Aljazeera begins to seem ominous. Soon after pinching one top BBC pin-up boy, Rageh Omaar, the Arab news service has now landed another, Darren Jordon, for its new English-language channel in Qatar. For an organisation as ostentatiously committed to ethnic diversity as the Beeb, losing two such outstanding non-white talents so quickly looks rather worse than carelessness. Mr Jordon has yet to explain his defection, but Mr Omaar made no secret of his disappointment that the BBC (and other Western-based broadcasters) are failing to report events in Iraq accurately, or at least to give a true flavour of the full horror. Clearly the political pressure on the BBC not to appear "unpatriotic" is colossal, especially with licence-fee wrangling reaching a peak. But there is a creeping sense that it remains severely cowed by the WMD fight with New Labour, and the loss of any more high-profile black and Asian staff would be extremely embarrassing. I would therefore like to propose a damage limitation idea. To nip any more of these humiliating poaching raids in the bud, give Aljazeera Huw Edwards. Being fluent in the heavily inflected language of Welsh, Huw will pick up Arabic very quickly, and will soon be able to write the news as well as read it, as he does in Wood Lane. Indeed, the more you ponder it, the more ridiculous it seems that Huw's talents should be confined to one little island at the expense of the world beyond. Give them Huw as a form of pre-emptive appeasement - and, with luck, it might put them off poaching BBC newsreaders for a very long time.

OVER AT The Times, Mary Ann Sieghart produces the longest apologia since Cardinal Newman. To recap briefly, while interviewing the shadow chancellor, George Osborne, at a conference fringe meeting in Bournemouth last week, the old girl jocosely asked whether, as a fact-obsessive 11-year-old, he was "faintly autistic". "We're not getting on to Gordon Brown yet," was the Wildean riposte, and the problem for Mary Ann was not the very mild tastelessness of her question, but her failure to recognise George's response as a story worth passing to her own newsdesk. A howler, yes, but not the end of the world, and concluding her column with such pious drivel as "I would still rather be thought of as a bad journalist with no news sense than one who will ... distort a mildly ill-judged joke for the sake of a splash," shows startling disdain for Denis Healey's dictum about holes and digging. I put it all down to the residual effects of the bee-sting that plagued her throughout the summer. I think Mary Ann must be suffering from some kind of delayed anaphylactic shock.

A QUIETER week at the Telegraph. If anything, in fact, it's been rather too quiet, the silence from certain quarters failing to pass unnoticed. From Charles Moore, a former editor of the daily, not a dickie-bird. One might have expected Charles to find the brutal sackings of so many of the foreign correspondents that he himself once cherished too much to bear in silence. Then again, with an annual salary of £200,000 for a little writing and some light duties as a "group consultant" (he's not allowed anywhere near the office), which of us would easily find our voice as we watched papers supposedly so dear to our heart being torn to pieces?

As for another erstwhile editor, and the very personification of old Telegraph values, Bill Deedes also prefers to keep his own counsel as the mayhem continues. Apparently WF's official line is that one writes for a newspaper, not its management, and, in deference to his great age, we'll let this pass without comment. Whether he's fully aware who the management are is another matter. During the recent launch party for his new book, Words And Deedes: Selected Journalism 1931-2006, WF mentioned to someone that it was a poor show that John Bryant, the caretaker editor of The Daily Telegraph, hadn't put in an appearance. "But he was here," someone said, "he was that chap who came over and said 'hello'". "That one?", asked WF. "Good god, I thought he was a down-table sub."

Could it be, meanwhile, that Mr Bryant is launching a guerrilla-resistance campaign against the Barclays? Last week a leader, nominally about the the NatWest Three's extradition, observed: "What we resent is the loss of that elemental function of a sovereign state: the right to try its nationals for offences committed within its borders". How cheeky of the leader writers to make such a thinly-veiled attack on those who deride the principle of national jurisdiction by suing rival British newspapers for libel or privacy abroad. And how bold of Mr Bryant to run it.

Finally, for now, on the matter, congratulations to Aidan Barclay, the chairman of the company and the son of one or other, or possibly both, of the lovable twins, on a mention in the old boys' mag for Sussex House, the prep school he attended just off Sloane Square. "Barclay, Aidan:" reported the newsletter, in a round-up of what alumni are up to, "Manager, The Ritz Hotel." If you're staying there, and they haven't done the bathroom properly, buzz down to reception and he'll be up in five minutes with clean towels.

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