Matthew Norman's Media Diary

Gordon plays ball with Rupert
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The Independent Online

Warmest respect to those ministers who fought so doughtily to protect Sky TV's stranglehold on live Premiership football. Admittedly Rupert Murdoch has lost his monopoly, but the deal struck in Brussels keeps Sky in a hugely dominant position. What's so touching here (apart from the fact that Richard Keys can remain on permanent secondment from the ape house at London Zoo) is the role played by Gordon Brown, who was reportedly one of several ministers to lobby on Sky's behalf in Brussels (a useful hint for those naively anticipating a brave new world when he finally succeeds Tony Blair). Who exactly he did tap up is unclear, but it probably wasn't the EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson. Some seven years ago, when Mandelson was about to be sacked as our own secretary of state for trade (always trade with him, isn't it? Trade, trade, trade, trade, trade...), I had a chat with him about Murdoch and football that led to me ask him why Murdoch had such a visceral loathing of the EU that he was vetoing any move towards monetary union. What you have to understand, said Mandelson, as if speaking to a peculiarly dim child, is that no single government is big enough to stand up to Murdoch, but Europe as a whole can challenge his monopolistic instincts. And so it comes to pass with this deal, albeit in such a minor way that Murdoch may regard it as a small triumph. If so, we must look out for The Sun, already beginning to tire of the PM, rewarding Brown with gushing leaders.

A BETTER week, thankfully, for the coltish Times political pundit Peter Riddell. Riddell had a shocker recently, you will recall, writing a front-page report suggesting that David Davis was romping home in the Tory leadership stakes on the strength of a bizarrely interpreted opinion-poll with a minuscule sample. An older hack might have been mortified enough to issue a public apology, but the great thing about youth is that the young know no fear or embarrassment. Peter bounced back splendidly, producing some scintillating froth about the register of members' interests, and well done for that. Even so, I will be keeping a close eye on him for the foreseeable future. Call it a probationary period if you will, but the boy needs mentoring until he gets the hang of things.

MEANWHILE, RIDDELL'S colleague Ruth Gledhill, the Times religious correspondent, is in one of her strops. The champion ballroom dancer takes space on a Times blogging site to share her thoughts about the uselessness of the Times. In a lengthy report concerning a recent meeting of senior Anglican clergy ("considering it lasted just two days this synod was difficult to beat for stress"), Ruth expresses displeasure over her treatment back in the office. "Both my rivals got front page splashes out of stories that we on The Times judged either not to be stories at all, or worthy of a slot somewhere near the back of the paper," she moans. "Today's story was particularly galling, ending up as the Guardian front page, as I had actually brought it in. I'll describe here how it emerged, as for those interested in the modern media it is an interesting story of how journalism actually works." A little too interesting for this week (let's not risk over-excitement; no one wants a thrombosis), so perhaps we'll return to it another day.

IN THIS week's extract from Son of PC Gone Mad (Empire Press, £19.99), Simon Heffer continues his Alan-Bennett-style odyssey through his Southend upbringing as the son of a copper. It's the summer of 1977, and Simon has begun a nervy flirtation with punk rock. "July 17: It's worse than I feared. 'Listen up everyone, a little hush if you please,' Dad boomed out during tea, which was odd because there was only me, Mam and Nana Gussett there, and Nana Gussett was in one of her comas after an outing with the Dubonnet. 'Listen up, I've an announcement. Tomorrow morning, first thing, we're off to London in the Princess for our Simon's birthday treat.' 'I can't believe he's 17 tomorrow, Dad, I just can't believe it,' said Mam, welling up. 'Now come on Mam,' said Dad, 'Don't be coming on all maudlin college Cambridge.' I told Mam it's not safe letting him watch University Challenge, but she'll not listen. 'We'll go down the King's Road to buy a grand new outfit, lad, and then it's the Golden Egg in Leicester Square for a slap-up lunch. How does that grab you?' Right in the orchestras, I thought, but I didn't say anything. What was there to be said?" In part two, next week, the Heffers meet Vivienne Westwood, with startling implications for Simon's future career.

I THOUGHT we'd made it clear to potential guests on the Today programme that on no account were they to interrupt James Naughtie, or offer anything more than the odd "You're quite right, Jim", or "Jim, I couldn't have put it better myself". Yet last week I heard several interviewees trying to speak for almost as long as Jim himself. The Sony is pretty much in the bag thanks to the unforgettable recent smugfest Jim hosted on the matter of Rebekah Wade's arrest, but much more of this anarchy could put it at risk. This is a third and final public warning. The next one to interrupt gets a proper kicking.

m.norman@independent.co.uk

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