Matthew Norman's Media Diary

Get them out for the lads, eh Rupe?
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The Independent Online

Two weeks ago, Rupert Murdoch made a speech in London foreseeing the future of newspapers as little more than quaint appendices to his online operations. So this seems a good time to check on how his own people are adapting to the guv'nor's futuristic vision, and the early evidence isn't too clever. A jaunt to the News of the World website a few days after the Murdoch proclamation revealed an article headlined "Why I left Billie-Jo dying on patio", which lifted from a forthcoming ITV show Sion Jenkins's first interview since his acquittal. "Foster dad Sion Jenkins has spoken publicly for the first time since walking free from court," this began, "and EXCUSED his strange actions on the day Billie-Jo was murdered." Whether internet readers strictly require the sort of capitalisations considered so important for red-top purchasers seems a slightly esoteric point when we examine the array of pictures to the right of the copy. The one captioned "Speaking Out: Sion Jenkins" was of a naked blonde woman, breasts thrust forward as she smiled at the camera, right hand resting suggestively out of shot just below her navel. As for the one captioned "Murdered: Billie-Jo", this featured the same young woman, this time on all fours in a classic pose possibly better suited to the publications Richard Desmond sold in his audacious bid to join polite society. The pictures were replaced a little later, and whether this was an honest mistake (a long shot, frankly, since the shots appeared nowhere else on the site), or a webmaster's idea of a jolly jape is anyone's guess. But if News International is serious about colonising the brave new world of internet newspapers, it might consider the odd safeguard for the handling of more sensitive stories.

NO MURDOCH title would ever print the second of the above snaps in a newspaper for fear of offending its loyal army of readers, but The Sun continues to unleash the full force of its creativity on page three, where a model recently appeared in a schoolgirl's uniform. With the paper continuing to campaign so vigorously on the issue of paedophilia, it is crucially important not to send out mixed messages. Rebekah Wade achieves the balancing act with great deftness of touch.

DISTRESSING RUMOURS of friction on Countdown, where it seems that Carol Vorderman and Des Lynam struggle to adapt to one another. As The Independent reported on Friday, viewers are complaining that Carol is trying to colonise the presenter's territory by supplying the dreadful puns that used to be the preserve of the late Richard Whiteley. Desperate times and all that... A while ago Des told me he was keen to see Ron Atkinson in dictionary corner. Although the producers haven't embraced that intriguing idea, perhaps they should think about hiring the American talk-show host Dave Lenihan. He has been sacked by a radio station in St Louis for using the word "coon" about Condoleezza Rice, although he insists he meant to say "coup". While a racist master of the malapropism might seem a bold choice for dictionary corner, Mr Lenihan would at least deflect the audience's irritation away from Carol, and allow her and Des to settle down. Well, something has to be done.

YOU WILL be relieved to learn that things look up for that tireless foe of political sycophancy Gerald Kaufman. Soon after he left the media select committee last May, a source who lives in the same St John's Wood block of flats reported that the old boy seemed poorly. He is now looking infinitely better, according to this neighbour, and confirmed the improvement last weekend by treating Sunday Times readers to his thoughts on the sale of peerages. Writing as an erstwhile member of Harold Wilson's kitchen cabinet (Gerald was in charge of the Vim, the scouring brush and the toaster), his gist was that Tony Blair is as honest as Harold ever was. "The sums of money causing controversy for both of them were tiny to those who know anything about serious money," he wrote, and who could disagree. The MP for a centre of urban deprivation grandiosely dismissing £14m as peanuts, and slapping down anyone who disagrees as a fiscal naif... isn't that just an utter delight? "Those now maligning Blair will miss him when he's gone," he concluded, and painful as it is to contemplate that day, the one silver lining is the vague possibility that Mr Blair will be allowed a resignation honours list after all, and that the noble Lord Kaufman of London's Glittering Theatreland will be on it.

WHILE LIBBY Purves continues her passive-aggressive sulk (she wilfully refuses to answer my e-mails), thanks to Alan Munton, a lecturer at the University of Plymouth, for plugging the gap with news of an exchange with the sensitive Midweek presenter after she came across something unflattering he'd posted about her on the internet and got in touch. Alan went on to mention her contribution to a Times end-of-year round-up of favourite books, in which she warmly praised The Repentant Morning, a Spanish Civil War novel, as "lovingly researched"; but which he, having a special interest in the subject, thought littered with basic political errors. Only later did he come to realise that its author, Chris Paling, moonlights as the producer of Midweek (you may recall Libby's recent outrage at criticism of the show here was entirely on behalf of "Chris and Louise") - something the presenter couldn't find space to mention in her admittedly brief review. Not the wickedest thing, given that book reviews tend to make the county of Norfolk seem a dilettante in the art of incest, but a little naughty all the same.

m.norman@independent.co.uk

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