MEDIAFREAK

THE BITES THAT BITE

Light entertainment

Dawn Airey, Channel 5's aggressive programming supremo, must have given Marcus Plantin, director of the ITV Network Centre, severe indigestion when she addressed a Royal Television Society dinner at the Dorchester Hotel in London's West End last Thursday.

After describing ITV as "television's equivalent of Butlin's", Ms Airey ridiculed its plunging audience figures: "ITV's aim is to reverse this decline by the end of the millennium - they didn't say which millennium."

Plantin could not disguise his displeasure. But he, and other outraged ITV colleagues, swallowed hard until the question-and-answer session.

"It's been great fun," he said, almost convincingly. "But advertisers don't want to see the commercial channels attacking each other to death. They want to see us all stealing (audience) share from the BBC."

Ms Airey later admitted that one of her favourite dramas was Savannah, the tacky American mini-series screened by ITV.

Panic at the photocopier

Having chronicled the horrors of downsizing across the industrial landscape over the past two decades, the BBC's economics staff fear they are about to become its next victims.

A management memo left lying beside a photocopier in Television Centre reveals a plot afoot to cut the number of specialists in the economic/industrial sphere and rely more upon (lower-paid) general reporters.

The document heightens fears in the bi-media newsroom of a brutal restructuring to bring about the corporation's controversial plan for a 24-hour TV news channel. To the alarm of his staff, BBC news supremo Tony Hall has indicated that this dubious enterprise must be funded out of existing resources.

Scotland's right stuff

The Great Moving Right Show gathers pace at Scotsman Publications in Edinburgh. New editor-in-chief Andrew Neil is doing his bit to help the super-secretive Barclay Brothers rescue the Scottish Tories from electoral annihilation and derail Labour's plans for a Scottish Parliament.

Neil has just ordered Brian Groom, "editor" of Scotland on Sunday, to overhaul the paper's commentary section and add Alan Cochrane to its roster of columnists (the SoS already has more columns than the Parthenon). Cochrane, who has been freelancing from a media cottage in the wilds of Perthshire since he was ditched by the Daily Express, can be expected to rub up whoever meets with Neil's disapproval.

Meanwhile, political editor Kenny Farquharson is departing to the pro- Labour and staunchly devolutionist Daily Record, giving Neil an ideal opening to shift the paper further rightwards.

In bad taste

Narrowcasting evidently knows no bounds in this wondrous multi-channel era. The Carlton Food Network has commissioned ITN Productions to make a 26-part series in which foreign correspondents such as Michael Nicholson and Norman Rees wax lyrical on camera about their most memorable meals. The regulators are unlikely to raise any great objections to this idea, but there is plainly some risk of bad taste ....

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