Matthew Norman's Media Diary
'The Sun' should shine on redemption<
Monday 27 August 2007
Even the BBC's most implacable enemies might have the grace to accept that the corporation has no equal when it comes to reporting criticism against itself. At times, indeed, the eagerness to don the hair shirt (director-general Mark Thompson was at it again last week, bleating about the loss of trust) suggests the SM Chapter of Opus Dei's annual convention in a Bayswater dungeon. Irksome as the continual self-flagellation can be, this penchant for ruthless self-examination is generally a thing of beauty, and it is comforting to fantasise that one day it might rub off on other media outlets.
Take the Sun, which for reasons entirely distinct from Sky TV's commercial interests, leads the way in Beeb-bashing. The Sun's coverage of the decision not to deport Learco Chindamo to Italy when he is released from prison for murdering Philip Lawrence, was fulsome in the technical sense beloved of professional pedants, and it's a sign of editor Rebekah Wade's enviable independence from her proprietor that the notion of redemption, in which that self-proclaimed Christian Rupert Murdoch devoutly believes, had little discernible influence on her handling of the story.
On such occasions it's tempting to see an irony in the Sun's veneration of a chief reporter who killed his wife, but we won't dwell on that today. What we will dwell on is the baffling lack of professional self-respect exhibited by Ms Wade in failing to report one central detail – the evidence given to the tribunal by the governor of Ford prison that what was undermining attempts to protect the public wasn't any threat posed by a man he considers successfully rehabilitated; but "hysterical misinformed articles in the gutter press".
Not a word of this appeared in the Sun or any other cauldron of synthetic moral outrage. So the next time Mr Thompson feels himself turning to jelly under assault from the high-minded moralists of the tabloid press, perhaps he could use the memory of what distinguishes the BBC from its sternest critics as a torchlight on the long and winding road to relocating his backbone.
Perhaps the poignant truth about tabloid introspection is that editors simply don't have the time until they move on. That's the case, at least, with Phil Hall, who managed to mask any introspective instincts while running the News of the World but is now quite the tortured soul. Phil tells us that he feels "huge responsibility" for his part in events leading to Diana's death – and while the mea culpa might have meant even more had it come in a NoW leader a decade ago, heaven loveth a sinner that repenteth and all that so good luck to this John Profumo de nos jours. For just as Mr Profumo sought redemption for his misdemeanour by working selflessly for the East End of London, so does Phil. Indeed, his public relations company handles the accounts not only for Millwall FC, but also West Ham United. Bless his anguished heart, he's an inspiration to us all.I was distressed to note standards slipping alarmingly at The Daily Telegraph within days of the splendid Lord Deedes's death. On Thursday, the front page headline above the report on Rhys Jones's murder in Liverpool ran: "Boy, 11, is shot dead in street by youth aged 12." The second paragraph, however, reported that the hooded killer was "said to be as young as 12". In the context of such a monumentally ghastly crime this might seem ridiculously trivial. Yet there's something really depressing about a paper which once had such high standards resorting to the red-top practice of stating as certain fact, in a headline designed to sensationalise a story hardly in grave need of that, what the first few lines of the report reveal to be unsourced speculation. It's cheap and grubby, and WF wouldn't approve at all.
From a rank headline in a supposed quality paper to a delightful one in a red top, and this from the Daily Mirror's health section. "I lost 12 Stone ... And Now You Can Too!". This inducement to readers seems a shade irresponsible. I was tempted myself for a while, but on reflection, weighing half one's birth weight in early middle age tends towards the circus freak show.
What in the name of all the saints is going on at ITV? Last Tuesday, its main channel devoted 100 minutes, from 10pm, to a typically cogent laceration by John Pilger of the United States' long-suffered addiction to destroying nascent Latin American democracies that are not to its liking. A gimmick-free, high-minded, intelligent, well-resourced documentary beginning at peak time on ITV1 ... does Michael Grade have any idea that there are sleepers within his company hell bent on destroying its reputation?
Commiserations, finally, to Mike Mendoza on being censured by Ofcom last week. The incident came in May when Mr Mendoza, who holds the highly prestigious 1-5am slot on TalkSport, pondered an appeal for information about Madeleine McCann from David Beckham. "Now tell me," mused Mike, "paedophiles in general are the type of people that surely would not follow football ... Not many gay people to the best of my knowledge are great football fans." We sympathise with Mike over Ofcom's ridiculous prissiness; and hope that when his Jewish community station Shalom Radio shortly reapplies for a permanent licence, the decision is swayed by the status as its founder of a man bold and clear-thinking enough to conflate homosexuality and paedophilia live on national radio.
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