Matthew Norman's media diary

No 'holiday season' card for Henry

An intriguing New Year conundrum awaits John Hutton, the plain- speaking Secretary of State for Business. Hutton, who so selflessly consented to serve under the man he so presciently predicted would make "a fucking awful Prime Minister", faces a hideous decision over BSkyB's shareholding in ITV.

James Murdoch bought a 17.5 per cent stake in the network 13 months ago, you will recall, for two transparent reasons: to block Richard Branson's plans to merge his Virgin operation with ITV; and to buy some leverage so far as neutralising a competitor for sports rights. Alas, alas and thrice alas, that cunning plan is now threatened by the Competition Commission's recommendation that Sky be allowed to keep a stake of less than 7.5 per cent.

A recommendation is all it is, though, and as we know, these can be ignored if ministers choose. The pressure on Hutton to do just that will be intense. Apart from any broad hints Gordon may offer with the future support of the Murdoch press in mind, the Culture Secretary James Purnell may want a cosy chat. He is friendly with Tim Allan, Alastair Campbell's one-time deputy who used to work for Sky, and whose PR firm Portland has Sky as a client.

And what, you have to wonder, of Tony Blair? He has form as a Murdoch lobbyist, once spending ages on the phone to Silvio Berlusconi trying to facilitate a satellite deal on Rupert's behalf. Whether he'll reprise the role by ringing such an erstwhile Blairite ultra as John Hutton, who can say? But if I were Richard Branson, I'd organise a Freedom of Information request for 2 January and have it repeated once a week asking whether the former PM has had any recent contact with the Business Secretary; and, if so, what exactly they discussed.

In a rare foray into the world of publishing, I am worried for Bloomsbury's founder Nigel Newton, an Anglophile American believed to be directly modelled on the Dan Aykroyd character in Trading Places, now that he can no longer rely on J K Rowling for his profits. Nigel is said to be exhibiting signs of stress, and we will be keeping a close eye on his post-Potter performance throughout 2008.

A public falling out between friends is always upsetting to behold, but seldom more so than in the case of Conrad Black and Henry Kissinger. Taking a moment from preparing for stir to write in The New York Sun, Conrad reflects in a typically bombast-free, more-in-sorrow-than-anger tone on his old chum's treachery. All those rides on the Hollinger jet, all the lavish rewards for a sinecure on the board, all those merry chats about the wit and wisdom of Richard Nixon... and at the end of it all, this odious ingrate only goes and says that his erstwhile benefactor was "probably guilty of something".

Conrad, still winning his rearguard struggle against succumbing to a sense of martyrdom, has all our sympathy. In losing respect now for a man he continued to worship long after the napalming of Vietnamese children, Conrad reaffirms the keenness of his grasp of moral priorities. Pray God that serves him well in jug.

Weren't you sickened, by the way, by how the godless worshippers of political correctness managed to expunge the word "Christmas" from so many festive greetings? "Dear Colleagues, This has been a remarkable year for our company..." wrote one PC Brigade officer in a touchingly personal Yuletide missive to staff. "May this holiday season and the days that follow bring you and yours great joy. Sincerely, Rupert Murdoch."

One employee to whom the season bought a joyous dollop of the exposure he craves was that dapper morsel, Irwin "Scoop" Stelzer. Apparently fatigued by his role as the Woodrow Wyatt de nos jours (and being a glorified lackey at his age must be exhausting), advancing causes close to his master's heart on the comment pages of Murdoch titles, Irwin produced a Sunday Times splash about a Bank of England source moaning about the paralysing effect of low morale at the top of government. When the Bank's governor Mervyn King denied being that source, Irwin exposed him, saying the remark was an aside over lunch which, not being explicitly off the record, he felt entitled to use.

Irwin's ruthlessness in jeopardising King's career by outing him as the source of a comment clearly intended as a confidence will stand him in excellent stead for his new role, as a showbiz reporter on the News of the World.

Meanwhile, the full list of dates and venues for favourite columnist Jon Gaunt's roadshow ("Larger than life itself and right in your face. Ask any questions you like") has been posted on Jon Gaunt's first Q&A evening is in St Albans on 25 January. But I have my eye on 27 Februrary at Southend Palace Theatre, and after recording a Christmas message to Gaunty and his TalkSport listeners, I don't expect to pay for tickets.

The fondest of farewells, finally, to Roger Alton, who leaves the editorship of The Observer after 10 years. No one has exhibited a stronger natural immunity to editoritis (the psychiatric condition also known as Andrew Neil Syndrome By Proxy) than this most unflinchingly self-deprecating of men. One of the most energetic, inventive and generally outstanding journalists of recent decades, it is an understatement to observe that Roger will be missed.

Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
Morrissey pictured in 2013
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
filmReview: Sometimes the immersive experience was so good it blurred the line between fiction and reality
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Tyred out: should fair weather cyclists have a separate slow lane?
environmentFormer Labour minister demands 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Data Analytics Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client who are a leading organisation...

Accountant / Assistant Management Accountant

Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: We are looking for an Assistant Management Ac...

Data Scientist

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A data analytics are currently looking t...

Insight Analyst Vacancy - Leading Marketing Agency

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A leading marketing agency have won a fe...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices