Matthew Norman's Media Diary

Why Dacre's gone to the dogs
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The Independent Online

A WEEK ago, we considered the intimate relationship between Rupert Murdoch and the Government upon the leak of a memo, written by erstwhile Alastair Campbell deputy-turned-Sky PR man Timmy Allan, about how to make that relationship closer still. In this light, this seems a good moment to glance at what the Commons media committee had to say, and didn't say, about Sky's contentious snaffling of exclusive live rights to Test cricket.

Although this went almost entirely unreported even in non-Murdoch titles, the committee savagely, if obliquely, attacked Tessa Jowell for breaking a deal done by her Department of Culture, Media and Sport predecessor Chris Smith with Lord MacLaurin of the England Cricket Board. "The content of that agreement was unequivocal," says the committee's report. "Live Test match cricket played in England was not to be removed completely from free-to-air TV. What is equally evident is that the terms of that agreement have manifestly been breached..."

So how and why did Tessa renege on this deal? The why is easily answered (any ambitious Cabinet minister would give Mr Murdoch a lung if requested), but the how is more obscure. All we know is that there was a meeting between Tessa (whom Timmy proposed in his memo as co-host of a joint New Labour-Sky media conference) and James Murdoch, at which he lobbied her over the cricket. Unfortunately, the committee agreed to keep the minutes of this meeting secret on the splendidly nebulous grounds of "commercial sensitivity". Meanwhile, if any demented conspiracy theorists care to muse on the role played in this engaging episode by James Purnell, the Blairite broadcasting minister and close friend of Tim Allan's, we'll be returning to the matter soon and relentlessly.

I AM pleased to unveil a new support group for hacks unable to accept their glaring errors of judgment. I can't quite bring myself to say sorry, for instance, to Lord Coe for writing that the only thing he'd win by leading the bid for the 2012 Olympics was the Légion d'Honneur for services to France. None of us needs more help, however, than Melanie Phillips. For years, Mad Mel has banged on about a link between the MMR vaccine and autism, regardless of major clinical trials disproving it. Last week, she was at it again in a Daily Mail piece headlined "We STILL don't know if MMR is safe", citing as evidence the fact that only 70 per cent of parents are having their children vaccinated with the triple jab. As if that statistic has nothing to do with wild scare stories in the papers. Mel, accept it, you must have help. The first meeting is next Tuesday at David Aaronovitch's house, and I beg you to be there.

OUR INTRO of the Week is also taken from the Mail. "As usual, just about everyone is missing the point," wrote Richard Littlejohn. In fact, he was introducing a typically thoughtful consideration of recent cartoon-inspired tensions, but it could really have been anything. Cracking stuff.

AS FOR the Leader of the Week, this comes from Richard's alma mater. "Ruth Kelly is no great shakes as an education supremo," mused the Sun. "But that does not excuse the fanatic who pelted her with eggs. Why should any public figure be subject to such humiliation? The actions of Fathers 4 Justice... verge on terrorism." How true this, and how prescient coming on the eve of Al Jazeera reports that al-Qa'ida operatives in Iraq are swapping shoulder-held, air-to-ground missile launchers for omelettes.

AND SO, by popular demand (one reader; my mother), back to Son of PC Gone Mad!!!, Simon Heffer's tender memoir of life in Southend where his father walked the beat. Today we join the family on an outing to Primme And Propper's for the New Year sales. "January 3, 1979: All night we queued, the three of us wedged together in the one sleeping bag, until I didn't know what would kill me first - the cold or the shame. The highlight came at 5.35am: Mam split the contents of the Thermos flask. Most of the Cuppa Soup went into Dad's helmet, but the debacle still left me with a nasty damp patch. Anyway, at 9am sharp, the doors opened and in we ran (Man said it was just like Chariots of Fire; I said if Harold Abrahams had moved like Dad, he'd still be running today), up the stairs, and into electricals. 'Ooh, hello Simon,' said this voice, and I felt faint. It was only Julia Adams from school, the posh one from that smart new estate with the Bohemian ways and the padded Playtex. I never knew she had a Saturday job. 'Our Simon, are you not going to introduce us to your lady friend?' boomed Dad, and that's when I noticed Julia staring at the dried Oxtail stain on my ... No, I can't cope with this now. Another day, dear diary, another day..."

DISTURBING NEWS from Oxford that student journalist Alex Dacre shows an interest in dog racing, despite the violent antipathy shown by his father Paul's Daily Mail to the spread of gambling. I am giving Paul a week to threaten to report me to the PCC (as he did, in a typically brilliant instance of self-parody, the last time I mentioned his issue in print), and if no formal complaint has been received we'll return to Alex and the dogs next Monday. If it has, we'll return to it all the same.

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