Matthew Norman's Media Diary

He's got them right in his pocket

ANother Action-Packed week in the life of News International, with Rupert Murdoch in town to give a lecture in which he observed that newspapers - I paraphrase slightly - are stuffed. "Power is moving away from the old elite in our industry," was the soundbite, "the editors, the chief executives and, let's face it, the proprietors." Let us face it indeed. One of the great things about this country is the ever decreasing influence Mr Murdoch exerts on the Government. One widely ignored aspect of Tessa Jowell's BBC white paper was the decision to give the media regulator Ofcom a hugely significant role assessing the market-impact of new BBC services. Last November the Freedom of Information Act was used to get the minute of the meeting between Tessa and Mr Murdoch's son James at which the Sky boss lobbied the culture secretary to renege on a deal to keep live Test cricket on terrestrial TV. As, of course, she duly did. Although Tessa's department censored all detail of this on grounds of "commercial sensitivity", included in the released version was the revelation that James - have you've guessed it yet? I think you have - "strongly believes the BBC should be brought within the ambit of regulation by Ofcom". Since Ofcom is a club for New Labour economists, it must be expected to steer the Beeb away from any activity that might impinge on Sky's profits. If only James's old man had any real power left... but let's not seek escapist refuge in the past. That golden age is gone.

MR MURDOCH is doubtless right in foreseeing our future as a service industry for websites, but there's fight in the old dog yet. The Sun and News of the World prove this by reserving the right to drag the gay website PinkNews into the libel action brought against them by Ashley Cole. PinkNews's alleged offence was to out Mr Cole as the subject of innuendo-laden reports about the Arsenal fullback, a radio DJ and a very lively party in London, by reproducing photos without the pixelation used in the papers. Admittedly it looks a catchweight contest, but we wish plucky little News International well in any battle with the mighty Goliath that is If newspapers pruriently fascinated with the sexual preferences of footballers can no longer circumnavigate libel law by the fiendish ruse of dropping unmistakable hints about their identities without actually naming them... well, you wonder whether this industry is worth preserving, even in the ever so 'umble form of blogtastic pilot fish for the great white shark of the net.

THANKS TO Libby Purves for last week's letter about our recent exchange, and apologies for not including every word, including my rude and self-important replies. Assuming that the public appetite for our adventures is far from sated, we may publish a supplement in early May. Incidentally, there are a couple of minor corrections. I did not threaten to e-mail Libby every day, but every four to six hours each day. And I addressed her not as a minx, but as a coquettish minx.

THE DAILY MAIL'S expanded four page Coffee Break- an enticing collation of puzzles, sudokus, crosswords and quizzes - continues to delight. If there is one minor quibble, it's the Connections game, in which you have to work out what six pictured celebs have in common. Last Wednesday, the sextet was Tom Cruise, Eddie Murphy, Paul Hogan, Rodney Dangerfield, Bette Midler and Sylvester Stallone. The answer is, of course, that they were the six top box-office film-stars of 1986. An insult to the intelligence.

IN TODAY'S extract from Son of PC Gone Mad!, we find Simon Heffer in a state after a row with Mam. "May 1 1979: Mayday, Mayday... that's just how I feel - in need of rescue by someone who understands me! When I got back from the library, she was stood by the door waving a copy of my letter wishing Margaret luck for Thursday's election. She must have found it when she changed the pillowslip. 'Simon, I'm worried about you,' she said. 'What is all this nonsense at the end about us being a cadet branch of the family? You've not joined the army, have you?' 'Now Mam, it's a private matter between me and Mrs Thatcher,' I said. 'And who is this Baron Gaston D'Heffeur of Honfleur we're related to? Your Dad never said.' 'Now don't take on, Mam, or you'll be wanting one of your red pills.' 'It's you that needs the pills, Simon,' she said. 'You've flipped your wig, telling Mrs Thatcher you belong to the oldest family in Essex. And what's this about coming over with William the Conqueror? You've only ever come over from France the once, and then you were sick as a dog on the ferry. All these airs and graces...' Well, I stalked up to my room, and she stalked off to hers, and we've not come out, neither of us, in four hours. I'll fetch her a cup of cocoa and a couple of Bourbon creams in a while, and we'll make up as usual. But more and more I suspect I must have been a foundling. I just don't seem to belong here any more."

FINALLY FOR today, we end on a positive note about the industry by observing that at least one newspaper maintains its purist standards. Germany's gravitas-laden Sueddeutsche Zeitung pioneers a new form of interview in which the subject is asked 10 questions, and must respond to each not with words but with a different facial expression. With innovative genius like this, perhaps there is hope for us yet.

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