Matthew Norman's Media Diary

Tony and Rupe: don't be so shy ...
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The Independent Online

WEEK AFTER week, through the usual mixture of indolence and obsessiveness, we come back to the issue of the influence exerted by Rupert Murdoch. The range and intensity of his power was needlessly underlined last Tuesday. On the same day that Hillary Clinton defended herself for allowing him to host a re-election fundraiser in New York, The Independent carried an intriguing report about No 10's refusal to answer a Freedom of Information Act request about the PM's contacts with him.

Apparently - and at this point, such bargains as John Prescott's salary package and the recent chartering of a Boeing 777 to take Tony Blair to Canberra come to mind - it would be too expensive. Aha. The other objection is equally persuasive. "On balance," Downing St judiciously concluded, weighing up the importance of complying with legislation Mr Blair introduced himself, it is more important that "the Prime Minister is able to undertake free and frank discussions with a range of stakeholders". Exactly what stake an American national holds in UK government policy is slightly obscure, technically at least, but one rather hopes Downing St might reconsider this reticence, if only to ridicule the notion that the owner of News Corp has operated as a kind of emperor these past nine years with Mr Blair as his loyal imperial procurator.

If supplying accounts of every meeting since 1997 is too pricey, perhaps No 10 might consider letting us in on just the one ... the last conversation between them before Mr Blair did a volte-face and decided that a referendum on the EU constitution would be a spiffing idea after all. What would it cost to dig out one little memo, just to assuage our doubtless paranoid minds? And if even that trifle goes against the parsimonious grain, I'm sure between us we could raise it with a whip round.

* IT WAS on different grounds that the Culture, Media and Sport Department refused to divulge another Murdochian memo - the one from the meeting at which Rupert's son James successfully lobbied Tessa Jowell to renege on a previous agreement and permit Sky exclusive live rights to domestic Test matches. On that occasion "commercial sensitivity" was the explanation, yet weirdly the perception of special treatment for Sky persists. Now the England and Wales Cricket Board, which sold those rights, has angered the Cricket Writers Club, a body little known for its militancy, over its cosseting of the network.

Specific umbrage is taken about an exclusive interview with Marcus Trescothick, whose early departure from a recent tour remains such a mystery. The writers are furious with Colin Gibson, whose faultless handling of the Faria Alam saga when in charge of the FA press office persuaded a canny ECB to employ him in a similar post. Their committee has written to the ECB's David Collier asking whether journalists from every other media outlet were shut out to allow Sky its "banal and embarrassing interview" to itself, and we await the response.

* LAST WEEK'S anointment of Nottingham as Britain's most crime-laden city (it scored well across the board, not least in firearms) brings to mind a piece here last year congratulating the Nottingham Post for devoting its front page and an inside spread to news of a man selling crisps slightly past their sell-by dates to local pubs. At the time, one Stephen Barker, "media and reputation manager" for Nottingham City Council, e-mailed in a strop rebuking me for "tabloid sensationalism", and explaining that while Nottingham had the problems of any big city, "we are working hard, and with considerable success, to solve them". It's not for me to suggest that Stephen and the gang work even harder in the year ahead, and we wish them all the best.

* OVER IN The Sun, David Blunkett's column becomes more scintillating by the week. On Wednesday, when a Sun leader described John Reid's remarks about Home Office inadequacy as "toe curlingly uncomfortable for the three previous Labour Home Secretaries since 1997", Blunkers, the second of that trio, turned his attention to David Cameron's attendance at an understated pre-World Cup party in Hertfordshire. "I'd like to think I would avoid coming out of the Beckhams' £500,000 bash, vintage champagne still gurgling in my veins ... " he wrote, peevish perhaps at his friend and drinking buddy Rebekah Wade taking Mr Cameron as her walker rather than him. "If we could all get champagne on the National Health ..." and so on.

Good stuff, Blunkers. Those bleeding toffs, eh, swanning off to Annabel's to drink Krug night after night, chumming up with the Duchess of Devonshire, with all those homes dotted about the country and the high-maintenance Ivy League mistresses ... honest, it's enough to make a working-class lad from Sheffield puke.

* ANOTHER BUSY week for Radio 5 Live, with Jamie Oliver overheard after an interview describing Victoria Derbyshire as a "stupid cynical bitch" (fame hasn't changed him a bit), and endless trailers for World Cup Scandals presented by Kelvin MacKenzie. All the years of sucking up to the BBC, particularly while he was running TalkSport, finally pay off.

* MARVELLOUS, FINALLY, to note Alastair Campbell joining Cherie in signing the copy of the Hutton report so contentiously auctioned for charity. I haven't checked the calendar, but a feeling in my bones insists it's about time for another of Ali's lectures about the crass way in which the media trivialises the most important stories.

m.norman@independent.co.uk

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