Matthew Norman's Media Diary

Reading out loud? Hats off, I say
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The Independent Online

Getting involved in a family row is a dangerous game, of course, but cowardice and media punditry make uneasy bedfellows. And so, in the case of the unedifying BBC spat over newsreaders and their generous salaries, take sides we must... and in this case, we find ourselves in the newscasters's corner.

Getting involved in a family row is a dangerous game, of course, but cowardice and media punditry make uneasy bedfellows. And so, in the case of the unedifying BBC spat over newsreaders and their generous salaries, take sides we must... and in this case, we find ourselves in the newscasters's corner.

It is cruel and misguided of Andrew Marr, John Humphrys and others to deride these public servants, on anything up to £400,000 per annum, as well-dressed parrots. Take Huw Edwards, whose lilting Welsh brogue is such a daily delight at six o'clock. Far from conforming to this poisonous stereotype of the half-witted autocutie, Mr Edwards has a central role in writing the news as well as reciting it. In the last nine months, according to well-placed sources on his bulletin, Huw has twice changed a colon to semi-colon, and on at least five occasions taken the unilateral decision to introduce the political editor by the diminutive "Andy".

Fiona Bruce (£400,000 pa) has gone further down the autocratic highway: on one broadcast, and entirely off her own bat, she changed "America" to "United States". As for Sophie Raworth, her gift for altering contractions such as "didn't" to the more formal "did not" cannot be understated.

Perhaps, on reflection, there are more challenging jobs than what was once known in kindergarten as "reading out loud". And perhaps also it might be possible to combine the government's child literacy drive with BBC plans to cut the wage bill, by replacing newsreaders with mildly precocious six-year-olds. But then utopians can always dream their dreams, can't they (or "can they not" as Ms Raworth might put it)? We in the real world will want to get behind these journalistic titans, and say "hats off" for doing such a bang up job.

My thanks to Radio 5 Live's breakfast presenter Shelagh Fogarty for the letter published last week, in defence of her co-anchor Nicky Campbell. I have replied to Shelagh, pledging not to tease Nicky (assuming his current good behaviour endures) for a minimum of three months. The situation will be reviewed in September, when a decision will be taken as to whether to extend this probationary period.

I am ecstatic to find a new recruit in the pages of The Times. It is Bel Mooney, a reformed paragon of Sixties faux-hippiedom still flirting with New Age sensibilities. "Whatever you do, or dream you can do, begin it ..." reads the Goethe quote on the home page of her web site ( www.belmooney.co.uk; well worth a look), beneath an Andy Warhol-style montage of her good self. "Boldness has genius, power and magic in it." How true this is, and how exquisitely her early form as Times agony aunt illuminates the sentiment. In reply to Arabella, writing about the control freak husband terrorising her two teenagers (particularly at meal times), Bel has this to offer. "Search for some plain wooden napkin rings to decorate. The identical outsides will bear all four of your names, symbolising the group. The inside of each will be painted in a different primary colour," (ah yes, that long awaited fourth primary colour), "to symbolise your different natures ..." Genius, power and magic indeed.

Upsetting news of Gerald Kaufman, whom my source in his St John's Wood mansion block reports is looking more sallow and miserable than usual. Doubtless this has to do with his loss of the media select committee he chaired with such impartial distinction. I have appealed more than once to readers for some sort of work - filing, light gardening, babysitting; anything really that doesn't require heavy lifting - to give focus to his life. And not one reply. How the readership of a caring newspaper can be so callous defeats me, but I ask once more. Can someone find something for the old goat to do?

A joy to find Jonathan Aitken's prison reflections wheeled out again, this time in the Daily Mail. No matter how often you read them, they never lose their power to captivate: especially moving is the account of being woken by a warder with a torch when "I was just listening to a sermon on forgiveness on my tape recorder". Whether Jonathan has forgiven me for the paragraph he cites, in his autobiography, as the catalyst for his resignation from John Major's cabinet, I've no idea. But I've certainly forgiven him for writing 127 times as much about his brief spell in jug as Nelson Mandela and Reuben "Hurricane" Carter combined.

In France, L'Equipe pioneers a journalistic development. So fatigued with cliche-ridden sporting interviewees has it become that its staff now write the answers to questions themselves, and fax them over for corrections. If it catches on here, media academics such as Professor Donald Trelford anticipate a 7000 word piece by Bryan Appleyard, in which he debates pre-Socratic philosophy with Wayne Rooney, appearing in the Sunday Times magazine in early November.

Unsavoury scenes at a quiz last Wednesday to mark the 10th anniversary of YCTV, Sabrina Guinness's project to teach deprived children about TV production. At tables taken by broadcasters and leading production companies such as Hat-Trick and Tiger Aspect, contestants had their BlackBerrys out to Google the answers. What's particularly sad is that they then cheered themselves for getting them right. Worst offenders were the ITV News team, with newsreader Alastair Stewart engaging in some spirited if witless heckling. But let's not get too sniffy. If a chap can't let off steam after the extraordinarily draining task of reading out loud, when on earth can he?

m.norman@independent.co.uk

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