Matthew Norman's Media Diary

Each man kills the thing he loves
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The Independent Online

UNLESS THE industrial action we might characterise as "the director-general strike" has been cancelled since time of writing, which seems unlikely, we awake today to the nostalgic prospect of braziers smoking outside BBC TV Centre. While Jeremy Paxman, John Humphrys and others have promised not to cross the picket line, it will be intriguing to see who does, and we may return to this next week. For now, this seems a good moment to examine the man responsible, Mark Thompson, who will be wearing his Hannibal Lector Memorial Muzzle all day lest the stress induces a nibble on the arm of any passing scab.

UNLESS THE industrial action we might characterise as "the director-general strike" has been cancelled since time of writing, which seems unlikely, we awake today to the nostalgic prospect of braziers smoking outside BBC TV Centre. While Jeremy Paxman, John Humphrys and others have promised not to cross the picket line, it will be intriguing to see who does, and we may return to this next week. For now, this seems a good moment to examine the man responsible, Mark Thompson, who will be wearing his Hannibal Lector Memorial Muzzle all day lest the stress induces a nibble on the arm of any passing scab.

In his approach to industrial relations, Mr Thompson appears a classic archetype of the life-long insider who rises to lead a media business. Having begun by reassuring the staff that he worships the organisation more than any of them, and told the Edinburgh TV Festival that "the legacy Greg's handed me at the BBC is in many ways a brilliant one. We're in good financial shape...", he then had an epiphany, and decided to sack 4,000 people and cut the editorial budget by some 15 per cent.

Given John Birt's lavish admiration, it would be naive to be surprised at this brutality. What is faintly startling is the timing. If Mr Thompson honestly believes, as he claims to, that this Government would insist on even more savage cuts if he didn't do some snipping himself, you wonder about his political antennae. One obvious result of the Hutton fiasco was a surge of national pride in the BBC, which mortified Mr Blair and guaranteed that no government will pick a serious fight with it again for years. So why Mr Thompson should pick the moment of the Beeb's greatest strength for decades to diminish it is a mystery. Perhaps all we can do is assume that, for all his Jesuitical background, the Catholic theologian who has most influenced the deeply religious Mr Thompson is Oscar Wilde, who observed that ultimately each man kills the thing he loves.

INCIDENTALLY, I'M delighted to note from Friday's Pandora that Andrew Marr will not be working today, despite disapproving of the strike, because " I don't want to let down my colleagues". This loyalty does him credit. It may even raise a grateful smile among those many colleagues who became ex-colleagues during Andrew's brief tenure as editor of this newspaper.

THE EYE is caught by another artful photograph of Tessa Jowell. In this one, the Media Secretary is captured on an escalator at the British Library facing Philip Pullman, whom she's congratulating for winning a children's literature award from the government of Sweden. Tessa's symbiotic relationship with the camera lens establishes her ever more rigidly as the Marilyn Monroe of modern politics. Whether the escalator shot will become as iconic as Tessa Pulls A Pint or Tessa Plays Roulette, it's too early to guess. But surely some canny publishing house could bring out a compendium of Tessa portraits, after the style of Madonna's erotica, in time for Christmas.

BLESS HIS heart, Conrad Black doesn't jack it in lightly. Interviewed by Fortune magazine, the old rogue is still banging on about being "the victim of corporate governance terrorists", raising yet again the classic Tony Blair Conundrum: when he says these things, does he believe them at the time? Most touching is his lordship's insistence that, the very minute the silly confusion over the missing £220m is cleared up, he will return in triumph. I know some suspect him of taking the Napoleonic fixation too far, but I can't see it myself. If a chap wishes to wander around Toronto in the rain, bare-chested and muttering "A Barbour wore I ere I met Barbara", that's entirely his affair.

VERY EARLY days in the contest to determine who cares most about Kylie Minogue, but so far The Sun is caring about three per cent more than the Mirror, and 11 per cent more than the Daily Mail (which has slashed its caring quotient by 6.2 per cent on the grounds that she is a childless working woman over 35). How much the Express cares is unknown, since it has just sacked Carol Sarler, infinitely its best columnist and the only conceivable reason for bothering with it at all.

m.norman@independent.co.uk

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