Matthew Norman: The PCC is backing a new form of journalism – the living obituary


The author of a rave review of a restaurant that closed the day before it was published, I am well aware that lead times catch many of us from to time. Seldom, however, since the Chicago Trib's "Dewey Defeats Truman!" has a publication suffered as grievously as OK! magazine. Last Tuesday's Jade Goody tribute edition, replete with black border and "In loving memory" strapline, was rotten luck for owner Richard Desmond. Some might even wonder whether enticing potential purchasers with the promise of her "final words" should interest the Trade Descriptions boys.

Well, it's very easy to be smugly disapproving about alleged bad taste in the cause of profit. I can't see much wrong with distressing the family of a gravely ill person, as Max Clifford initially told the Daily Mirror the issue had done (shortly before OK!'s website insisted they were thrilled with the coverage).

By weird happenstance, I'm currently negotiating an advance to produce a personal tribute, in pamphlet form, to the life of Richard Desmond, and should he survive it I know he'll see the funny side. More to the point, the Press Complaints Commission also discerns nothing beastly about OK! edition number 666. "As things stand there will be no investigation," as an unnamed spokesman put it. "If people want to present arguments why the commission should disregard the usual third-party rules then we would listen to that argument ..."

I've had a good long think about this, and still can't see why the usual third-party rules should be disregarded just because the first party was stupefied into semi-consciousness by morphine and close to death, and the second was OK! Again, we salute the PCC for the fearless moral stands it is endlessly prepared to take.

Dick's finger in the dyke?

Still with Mr Desmond, I have every hope that my pamphlet will include his role in helping save us from financial meltdown. With Victor Blank's stewardship of Lloyds TSB going so swimmingly, and Lord Myners covering himself in glory at the Treasury over Fred Goodwin's pension, the clamour for newspaper supremos to take crucial financial positions won't be resistible much longer. As Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the Baron Desmond of Northern Shell's cost-cutting genius would be invaluable as the pressure on public spending increases. Anyway, he deserves the chance to redeem himself, by ensuring that the obituary to Britain's solvency proves even more premature than another of his acquaintance.

Engaging times

Congratulations to Petronella Wyatt on her engagement. The only daughter of late Murdoch-Thatcher middle man Woodrow Wyatt, reports the Daily Mail's Richard Kay, is to marry reinsurance broker Johannes Muhlenburg, a sixty-something German from that nation's federal province of Austria, and a former member of its Davis Cup tennis team. We hope they will be the happiest mixed doubles team in the whole world. Or at least that their union endures longer than that of Petsy's brother Pericles (pronounced to rhyme with "testicles"), whose wedlock to a one- legged hamburger waitress from Texas didn't take.

That would be good news

A typically brilliant piece on Friday from Johann Hari, who argued that the government might think about aiding newspapers with some form of subsidy before it's too late. He's right, of course. The democratic implications of a world devoid of effective investigative journalism are horrendous. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is taking up the cause in the States, but the omens for political salvation here aren't great. In fact, I put a version of Johann's argument to Lord Mandelson before Christmas. After all, it seems only a fair exchange given that some papers (Murdoch titles, oddly enough) have subsidised such political giants as Alastair Campbell and David Blunkett for years. Alas, the Business Secretary was "unpersuaded". I sense an opening for David Cameron. A manifesto commitment to protect the industry, as it flails about for some way to make the internet pay, would be portrayed as a crude bribe by the cynics and sneerers. But in our boat, I think we'd take it all the same.

Berth of free speech

At long last favourite columnist Jon Gaunt reveals his new radio berth. On 20 April, Gaunty tells Sun readers, he will begin a daily show from "new state-of-the-art ... radio studios in Wapping ... That's right, we are bringing you SunTalk. The Home of Free Speech." Gaunty's had "loads of offers" since being sacked by similarly styled TalkSport. Typically he is too modest to go into the specifics, although rumours about him replacing one of the Radio 4 news pips, which reaches retirement age later this month, were oddly persistent.

That's academic now he's plumped for the Limbaugh Lite slot on SunTalk, available via the paper's website, where he will be at liberty to call local government officials "Nazis" and pursue his multicultural agenda with impunity. Roll on 20 April, when his first guest will be Mr Cameron. Perhaps Gaunty could put the case for subsidies for newspapers to him then. This is at its core a battle to safeguard Free Speech. Where better to launch it than on its new Home?

Coupling on TV

With Richard & Judy poised to depart the small screen, their natural replacements audition powerfully for the role of nation's favourite bickering sweethearts. I adored the Mail's picture of Kate Garraway pinching husband Derek Draper's cheeks like a psychotic Jewish grannie (I could eat him too, Kate. Which of us couldn't?) The accompanying he says-she says feature, in which Derek explained why cooking is a wife's work while Kate reassured us that he compensates by booking the babysitter, was also a delight. Some 8,000 daily viewers of Watch (All right, Don't Watch. Please Yourselves) TV are soon to be bereft. The solution speaks for itself.

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