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Matthew Norman: It’s press complaints gone mad!


Congratulations to Peta Buscombe on succeeding Sir Christopher Meyer as chairman of that fearlessly independent body, the Press Complaints Commission. “Political correctness makes us a diminished people: we shy away from what needs to be said,” declared her ladyship in a previous role fronting a similar organisation on behalf of the advertising industry.

“There’s a ‘PC creep’ that has come in. We’re frightened of being misunderstood. This means private prejudices could be entrenched – the classic one is immigration.” Somehow I suspect she’ll get on fine with the tabloid editors who are now effectively her bosses.

On the subject of those tasked with upholding standards in our media, our thoughts turn to John Whittingdale, who chairs the Commons committee on the media (plus culture and sport). He was on cracking form interrogating the BBC’s Invertebrate Twins (Mark Thompson and that titanic presence Michael Lyons) over the Ross-Brand fiasco. John is a paradigm of independent thought from whom Lady B could learn much. It’s a while now since he had a day’s shooting on Associated Newspapers’ shilling; and longer still since this fierce critic of the Beeb replied, when asked which media figure he most admires, “Rupert Murdoch”.

When Moore really is less

It is with awe and reverence that we welcome a newcomer to the pantheon of social justice warriors. I refer, of course, to Charles Moore, the Rosa Parks of The Spectator already, and soon perhaps to become the Telegraph’s Rubin Carter. For the day may yet dawn when the Bob Dylan du jour (my money’s on Billy Bragg) writes a Hurricane-style ballad about a man rotting away in solitary in HMP Belmarsh. This may seem melodramatic, yet who can say how Moore’s refusal to pay his BBC licence fee, in protest at the lenient treatment of Jonathan Ross (he’s only dropped the £1.5m) will end? On reflection, Charles’s likelier role model here is Watt Tyler. What he is leading is a modern peasants’ revolt (“Several other rebels have contacted me,” he writes in the Speccie), and interviewed by John Humphrys last week he spoke movingly of how he was sticking up for the little people like himself who, living outside London (has he sold his place in Islington?) and without a shred of influence (just the two weekly columns) are scorned and ignored by the BBC.

Almost as impressive as the fearlessness is his suppleness of mind. During the poll tax riots (trivial next to a prank phonecall, yes, but a struggle for justice all the same), he seemed a less loving friend to the concept of civil disobedience. As editor of the Daily and Sunday Telegraph and The Spectator, in reverse chronological order, you might almost have mistaken him for a staunch supporter of the idea that the law of the land should be obeyed. Mind you, back then he also showed a healthy libertarian streak when it came to the right to offend, declining to fire his columnist Taki over the racism that peppered his purple pidgin prose. That’s not to suggest that there isn’t a clear qualitative difference between smutty remarks about an actor’s granddaughter and the use of such elegances as “Sambo”. We must take care to prioritise when choosing by what we wish to be scandalised. But when we do take offence, we must fight for our beliefs with all our strength… and if ever there was a cause worth the loss of our liberty, that surely is lining up alongside The Sun and the Daily Mail in attempting to bully the BBC into sacking a chap for a joke that went awry.

And a Nazi is..?

Speaking of sacked broadcasters, it is far too soon to dwell on the dismissal from his TalkSport berth of Jon Gaunt. The wound is too fresh for that. The silver lining is that my favourite columnist can still be enjoyed in The Sun, where on Friday he touched but lightly on his dismissal. “Putting aside the fact that my former employers gave me the boot for calling someone a ‘Nazi’,” began his item on the BNP, “while simultaneously employing an alleged one in the shape of the DJ Rod Lucas…” Once again, Gaunty seems confused, this time about the precise nature of National Socialism in Hitler’s Germany. The name of Mr Lucas (a freelancer, in fact, not an employee) appeared on the leaked BNP membership list – he claims he joined purely to investigate that ridiculous party – but no one other than Gaunty has equated this with Nazism.

Exclusively yours

Daily Mirror Exclusive of the Week goes, meanwhile, to Alun Palmer for a report on the leak of that BNP list. No one else had a sniff of that one, did they? Sarah Wallace is an unlucky runner-up for her account of how Arlene Phillips thought little of John Sergeant’s hoofing. Once again, how they keep these scoops to themselves I will never know.

Not chicken tonight

I am thrilled, lastly, to receive yet another emailed invitation to dinner (honestly, I’ve never been so popular in all me puff) from The Spectator. This one’s “An Evening With Andrew Roberts”, in celebration of that historian’s latest opus, Masters and Commanders. If you’ve been asked along too, but are concerned that the catering will be in the hands of Kentucky Fried Chicken (Andrew, you must recall, is the heir to one of England’s largest KFC fortunes), I can set your mind at rest. At £125 per ticket, that would mean an awful lot of buckets. Whether Andrew’s friend Charles Moore will be at liberty to attend, time alone will tell.