Matthew Norman's Media Diary

Mel and Josh: let battle commence

IT IS with a faint but noticeable air of self-doubt that we begin today with a glimpse into the home-life of my old friend Melanie Phillips of the Daily Mail, and her husband Joshua Rozenberg. The last time I mentioned the pair, after they'd been surveyed silently reading newspapers while dining in a north London pizzeria, Melanie publicly cited the reference as a grave intrusion on her privacy, and I have spent years being tortured by the complaint.

However, since Mel works for a paper with a record of investigating the contents of people's bins, when it feels the need arises, I hope she'll understand if we examine an explosive conflict of opinion that may, or may not, threaten the harmony. Last week, in a typically original tour de force, Mad Mel unleashed a savage assault upon the Human Rights Act which so upsets her by suggesting, as it does, that sending wrongdoers home to torture and death isn't necessarily the signature of a civilised nation. Mr Blair's human rights law "has quite simply altered the entire legal and moral culture of this country, and taken an axe to common sense", she said. Further, it has "created a culture of legalised lunacy ... The usual suspects scream that it would be unthinkable to abolish 'human rights'. How absurd." Not much doubt there then. Over in The Daily Telegraph on the very same day, however, Joshua approached the issue from another angle. "Contrary to the impression given by the Government and my old lady Mad Mel Phillips," he began his article (I may have invented the second half of that clause; I'm not quite sure), "amendments to the Human Rights Act 1998 are both unlikely and unnecessary." Josh went on to explain to Telegraph readers, with great clarity, why newspapers distort a piece of legislation which is perfectly adequate for the task as it stands, and why repealing it would be an absurdity. Whether he can explain it in language the missus can understand is another matter, but things cannot go on as they are. Something has to give in Muswell Hill.

SHOULD THIS dispute spiral out of control, perhaps the Rozenberg-Phillipses would consider professional help. If so, and if they're prepared to wait until he qualifies, I commend them to Michael Kallenbach, formerly a columnist on The Sun, who has bravely foregone the joys of Wapping to train as a relationship therapist. Last week Michael married his long-standing boyfriend, and we send them congrats. Whether Mel would approve of such a ceremony is debatable, but a colleague wrote a very sweet paragraph on the matter. What is going on when the Mail takes such a warm stance on gay wedlock? "Political correctness gone mad," would seem the term.

* SPEAKING OF which, Son of PC Gone Mad, Simon Heffer's wistfully haunting rites-of-passage memoir about growing up in Southend as the son of a beat bobby, is poised to return. The next extract will come from Simon's university days, when he is framed for nicking, of all things, a policeman's helmet on Boat Race night. In the meantime, hats off for a spirited Telegraph piece about the horror for the English of being governed by Scots. I will scour the archive for an old article by Simon railing about the iniquity of the Scots being ruled by the English and, specifically, being treated like pit-canaries, and exposed to some of Mrs Thatcher's less elegant policies before they were unleashed elsewhere, and may report back soon.

* A FORTNIGHT since Steve McClaren was appointed as Sven Goran Eriksson's successor, and still no public apology from Jonathan Pearce for informing Grandstand viewers that Alan Curbishley would get the job. But it could be a race against a certain Steve Stammers. Mr Stammers, now with the Sunday Mirror, assured readers of the London Evening Standard in February that Gerry Francis, the sporter of the last mullet in the West, was on the verge of a "shock appointment" to the England set up. "Sorry" doesn't have to be the hardest word, boys. You'll feel a million times better when it's done.

* I KNOW I'll feel better in a moment, when on behalf of the entire British media I've apologised for ruining the Mills-McCartney marriage. The persecution of Heather, whose distaste for cameras and feature-articles borders on a full-blown phobia, was despicable, and we wish her a long period of the privacy she so transparently craves.

* SETTLING ADROITLY into his new post as Leader of the House, Jack Straw enjoyed a high-powered Commons exchange with the Charles-Hawtrey-lookalike Chris Mullin over the style and salaries of newsreaders. "On the issue of whether newscasters should prance around the studios or sit at a desk and read the news," said this much-underrated political thinker, "which is what they are paid for - and too much - personally I prefer the latter to the former." One can see how a colleague of the workaholic John Prescott would be irked by people earning vast chunks for doing next to nothing, but I must warn Mr Straw that if he has Huw Edwards in mind he should watch his step. Huw not only reads the news, as he likes to make clear, but also writes it, edits it, produces it, directs it, operates the cameras and cleans the studio when he's done. One more snide word from Mr Straw, and off come the gloves.