Matthew Norman's Media Diary

Murdoch's stand for human rights

IN ALL the years of observing British newspapers, I can't recall a change of heart as startling and touching as the one at The Times, which has executed a quite dizzying volte-face on the vexing issue of China. As recently as March, during the state visit of the Olympic torch, the paper commissioned weeny onetime sports minister Colin Moynihan to explain why any form of boycott is a most foolish notion. By one of those delicious instances of Jungian synchronicity, The Sun ran a piece identical in sentiment, if not in reading age, by that other underrated commentator on human rights Sharron Davies (Amazon, as was, in her Gladiators days).

And now, would you believe it, quite without warning the Thunderer turns on Beijing with the venom of a Taiwanese radical. Gordon Brown's refusal to see the Dalai Lama in Downing Street was appeasement, screeched one headline, while a cartoon by Peter Brooke drew the distinction (perfectly suited to a drawing, if a little too obvious for an entire column) between Gordon's book on courage and his actions.

Heaven loveth a repentant sinner, as we often say, but what can explain this astounding about-turn? Is it a new editor, James Harding, with the guts to defy his overlord in that bespoke Boeing 777 in the skies above? Was James Murdoch's promotion to lead the Britain operation a less titular appointment, so far as editorial policy, than we assumed? Or has Rupert himself had an epiphany, and seen the light about a regime before which he prostrated himself for so long? It's too early to hazard a guess, but one thing seems certain. It won't be long now before one of Rupert's imprints confirms this Pekinese conversion by finally getting round to publishing Chris Patten's book.

ALSO IN The Times, talented football writer Matt Dickinson addresses John Terry after that missed penalty. "As the tears flowed stronger than the Russian downpour, he looked inconsolable", wrote Matt, and Mr Terry's face was indeed awful to behold. "Avram Grant ... has a perspective on life because of the traumas his family suffered in the Holocaust," he continued, "but even he was struggling to find the words to ease the pain of Terry." Perhaps it's just me being prickly, but is adducing the Holocaust to heighten the epicity of a football match evidence of much perspective on life? Not sure about that.

SPLENDID TO see Michael Parkinson filling his time now that he's vacated the chat show set. All gerontologists agree that it's crucial for those in late middle age to keep mentally active, and his new role as the Government's "dignity ambassador" should help. Parky will spearhead a National Dignity Tour to improve NHS care of the elderly, although it's hard to discern what this might involve. Probably schlepping Lauren Bacall and the late Peter Ustinov around psycho-geriatric wards to share wonderfully fresh anecdotage. Laying facetiousness aside for moment, this is clearly an important issue, and we wish him luck with it. If things go well, Whitehall sources indicate that His Excellency will become His Imperial Highness in the autumn when the title is duly upgraded to the more traditional Dignity Tsar. Good Old Parky!

BBC2'S COVERAGE of the Crewe and Nantwich by-election was impressively eccentric. For what the broadcaster repeatedly assured us was the most important by-election in a decade, David Dimbleby and Paxo were given the night off, while a masterstroke was having psephologist John Curtice in the studio and never once asking his opinion on the implications for Labour of the catastrophe. At precisely 2.40am, bang in the middle of an interview with defeated Labour candidate Tamsin Dunwoody, and without a word of warning, the continuity announcer executed a bloodless coup to inform us it was time for Meerkat Manor. Curious stuff, but pleasing all the same. Employing a 12-year-old ADD sufferer who mislaid the Ritalin on the way to direct coverage of so seismic a political event did much credit to the commitment to positive discrimination.

HATS ARE raised even higher to the Beeb, meanwhile, for a more conventional hiring. I can barely express the joy in this household at the appointment of Steven Moffatt to succeed Russell T Davies as supreme guv'nor of Doctor Who. This is a man of close to genius who has produced the two best scripts in the show's history (The Girl In The Fireplace and the incomparable Blink), and for all the regrettable heresy of giving all the power to writers rather than marketing people and middle management placepeople the show couldn't be in safer hands. And after that ingratiation, I expect Mr Moffatt to return the favour by granting the request of a smallish boy of my acquaintance that the Sea Devils are brought off the intergalactic subs' bench in 2010.

WARMEST CONGRATS, finally, to that majestic Sun columnist David Blunkett on the birth of a granddaughter ... an event he cunningly fashioned into a searing attack on ageism. "Just because a baby's been born, I'm not about join the fashion of worshipping youth over maturity the awful tendency to think anyone over 40 should be put out to grass."

Mate, however desperate Gordon may become, you're never coming back so get used to it. Now in Chinese politics, of course, a 60 year old is adolescent. I'd suggest a transfer to Beijing, but no loyal Murdoch employee would brook any association with the persecutors of Tibet.

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