Matthew Norman's Media Diary
'This year's Scam award goes to...'
Monday 12 May 2008
Nothing befits a statesman like the elegant avoidance of cretinous hyperbole, so it was good to catch John Whittingdale, chairman of the Commons media select committee, on Friday's Today programme. At first I was bamboozled by John's mention of "a catalogue of the most appalling abuse", and assumed he was talking about that unutterably monstrous story about the Austrian cellar (especially when he then referred to "looking under the stone").
But no, he was in fact on about TV stations conning viewers, an issue given muscly new legs by the tale of Ant 'n' Dec winning the 2005 People's Choice prize at the British Comedy Awards, at Robbie Williams' insistence, when the real phone vote victor was Catherine Tate. Given that the resident Times psephologist Peter Riddell describes this as "the worst fraud in global electoral history since the hanging chads of Miami Dade", the £5.7m fine levied on ITV by Ofcom for equally appalling abuses seems pretty feeble.
No, what's required here, quite clearly, is a new awards ceremony. We don't have enough of these things as it is (the last time I checked, there was still only one Awards Awards ceremony to honour the organisers of awards ceremonies), and even if we did, this one would revive the genre. So I suggest the ITV Pride of Scams Awards, the winners of which must – at Ofcom's express insistence – make an acceptance speech live on prime-time telly. Who wouldn't rejoice to see Channel 4's engaging chairman, Luke Johnson, raising his Golden Daley (after Arthur) and thanking Richard & Judy for the You Say, We Pay triumph? Or ITV's own Michael Grade handing the Lifetime Achievement prize to the show's presenters – and I think we can rely on Ant 'n' Dec to waive their fee for this one – for all they've done for the industry?
This catalogue of appalling abuses must be stopped, and naming and shaming seems the cleanest way to do it.
Meanwhile, a shift in emphasis on this subject is noted in The Sun. Whenever the BBC is involved in an appalling abuse, such as the misnaming of the Blue Peter kitten, the paper has gone to town, yet on Friday it relegated the ITV scandal to page nine – and even then the report was slanted in A'n'D's favour by focusing on how appalled they were, and how abused they feel, to discover this appalling abuse.
So let's state for the record that this was solely a matter of news judgement, and had nothing to do with a) Rupert Murdoch's unending crusade against the BBC, and b) Mr Murdoch's large (although soon, touch wood, to be reduced) stake in ITV.
even jon gaunt eschewed the scandal in Friday's Sun in favour of plugging himself (and a good plugging is something he could always use), and more specifically his cleverly titled forthcoming book, This Is Great Britain Not Rubbish Britain. "This is the country of Shakespeare and the Sex Pistols, Thatcher and The Specials," wrote my favourite columnist. "The land and people who invented football, rugby, the TV, ... A tolerant country. A fair country. A great nation and people."
Sensational stuff, and a deliberate echo of his forebear John of Gaunt's speech ("This happy breed of men... This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England...") as sampled by that same Shakespeare in Richard II. Will the raw power of the genetic inheritance never cease to amaze?
I remain profoundly distressed by Huw Edwards's unscheduled appearance at the World Snooker final in Sheffield. Huw went with his son Sammy, who seemed a lovely boy, and spoke of his (Huw's; Sammy has more sense) long-term obsession with fellow Welshman Terry Griffiths, whom he was so overwhelmed to meet. Nothing wrong there. Indeed, some experts regard it as Huw's finest cameo since he appeared in the Dr Who story 'Fear Her', anchoring the 2012 Olympics (he also wrote, directed and produced the episode, by the way, built the set, cleaned the Tardis, and dispatched the Sea Devils through a tear in the fabric of the space-time continuum when no one was looking).
What upset me was his response when asked about Sammy's ambitions. "If he gets into newsreading," said Huw, "something's gone very wrong". Madness. Newscasting will always be the highest of journalistic callings, and if Sammy wants to follow his dad into professional reading out loud that's the least seemly source there could be for faux self-effacement. Poor show.
As boris johnson settles into his mayoral post, the eye is caught by his hiring of Patience Wheatcroft to head a panel of business bods charged with eliminating mismanagement and waste. A splendid appointment. Although Patsy's editorship of The Sunday Telegraph was hardly an unparalleled success (bless her heart, it wasn't that) it must have provided her with keen insights into poor management and the wasting of resources (circulation, market share, advertising, and so forth). We'll return to this one, I suspect, but for now we wish her well.
High time, finally, for formal confirmation that Boris is giving up his Henley seat, and when. His team assured us 10 days ago that he'd be standing down as an MP "as soon as possible", but I can find no reference to this since. Boris once promised the noble Lord Black that he'd stand down as editor of The Spectator as soon as possible after entering parliament, of course, but in all the excitement it completely slipped his mind. I can't imagine how he could pull that stroke this time, but you wouldn't put it past the fluffy rascal to have a crack. So a date, please, Boris, if you would. Forthwith.
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