MEDIAFREAK THE BITES THAT BITE

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Scotsman's breakfast

The skirl of bagpipes will ring out around newstands at most of London's major railway stations today as part of a wideranging PR blitz to launch a new London edition of The Scotsman. The paper's editor-in-chief, Andrew Neil, has also invited a range of tartan celebrities and fellow hacks with Caledonian surnames to join him this morning for a Scottish breakfast at the Ritz Hotel, which is owned by the Barclay brothers, the ultra-secretive and super rich twins who purchased Edinburgh's morning newspaper 18 months ago.

Meanwhile, Neil's frightened underlings up in Edinburgh are just relieved that he won't be having them for breakfast today.

Or maybe they are still chortling into their porridge over a bizarre pronouncement by Keith Bales, another former resident of Wapping who was recently appointed business development director of The Scotsman Publications Ltd. Asked on a BBC Scotland radio show last week what he was doing to attract more young readers to The Scotsman, this marketing wizard of Oz replied that it had developed a masturbation helpline.

Mirror picks on Pilger

Mirror execs were piqued by John Pilger's recent ITV documentary, Breaking the Mirror - the Murdoch Effect, in which the cemetery-faced Australian lamented the rise and rise of his compatriot Rupert Murdoch and what he portrayed as the sad decline of the paper he used to work for.

Mirror execs served up what they considered the perfect riposte to Pilger at the British Press Awards annual dinner last week. To celebrate winning the Scoop of the Year - for revealing that "Mad cows can kill you" - the paper produced a special exclusive front page for circulation at the event, which it dedicated to its television tormenter. The caption on the accompanying photo read: "Welcome to the Nineties, Mr Pilchard."

Will it be Willis?

John Willis, Channel 4's director of programmes, enjoyed a day at the Cheltenham Races last Thursday with a select gathering of producers, presenters and journos. But how will he fare in the C4 Leadership Stakes? That's what he and everyone else at the station is eager to find out as Michael Grade prepares to bow out as chief executive.

The station's next full board meeting is scheduled for the 24th of this month - a week today - but informed insiders aren't expecting an annoucement until some time in April.

Caught in the Net

The General Election campaign has already started in the new media, with lots of special websites up and running. But, if they are ever to challenge the traditional news media for a central role in the political process, they're going to have to improve their reliability. Cyberspace technology doesn't seem to be up to the job, as Lib Dem leader Paddy Ashdown found to his cost last Wednesday lunchtime when he endeavoured to embellish his online credentials by facing the Internet hordes on the GE97 site.

The chat was curtailed by BTnet nameserver difficulties and the House of Commons phone system. Site-users were forced to settle for a brief transcript in the Paddy Ashdown Forum and an assurance that "Paddy has graciously agreed to answer all e-mailed questions sent before or during the chat"n

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