Stephen Glover: I fear a deeper agenda behind the bloodletting at the Telegraph
Monday 08 December 2008
No one has a higher regard for Media Guardian than I do, but I sometimes wonder whether it does not occasionally report newspaper redundancies involving its competitors with a little too much relish. After all, the axe could soon fall – will do so, I fear – at The Guardian. Redundancies are not necessarily a sign of weakness. They are affecting even the best-resourced titles.
This week, the Financial Times intimated that it is planning drastic cost-cutting measures to cope with the expected contraction of advertising next year. The point is that the FT has become profitable again after some lean years, and is part of Pearson, a large and successful company, but despite its position of relative strength, the paper will be shedding journalists.
The Daily Telegraph is also one of comparatively few profitable titles, even if it no longer makes the money it once did. It recently announced 100 redundancies, including some 50 journalists. In a way, this announcement was more surprising, since there have already been several episodes in which journalists have been culled from what the paper's management evidently believed was a bloated staff. After a series of convulsions, though, the Telegraph seemed at last to have settled down.
Now there is to be another round of redundancies. Rather than interpret this as a further stage in the Telegraph's perpetual revolution – what Andrew Neil described as "bloodletting" – we should probably accept that it represents the same sort of cost-cutting being undertaken by the FT. The paper's owners, the Barclay brothers, may run a private company, which means they do not have shareholders breathing down their necks, but they want to defend their margins like everyone else.
All the same, there is a familiar agenda operating within the commercially driven cutbacks. The two most prominent journalists dismissed are the Telegraph's wunderkind Sam Leith, literary editor and columnist, and Andrew McKie, its obituaries editor. A strong case can be made for the books pages and the obituaries being the paper's finest adornments, and yet the two men responsible for them have been sacked. Messrs Leith and McKie are also survivors of the Conrad Black-owned and Charles Moore-edited Daily Telegraph, and thus tainted.
Will books now be relegated, as they have been in so many American papers? Are obituaries – the greatest achievement of Sir Max Hastings's editorship – to wither on the vine? I can quite understand that economies have to be made at these times. While sympathising with Mr Leith and Mr McKie, I imagine that journalists of their high talent will find no difficulty in finding further employment. What worries me is that these cutbacks mask a deeper agenda, which is to push the Telegraph further downmarket, and deprive it of its distinctive qualities.
* I have been thinking about my wager, made here four weeks ago, that I would eat a copy of the Daily Mail and The Independent, garnished with proprietary sauces of my choosing, in the event of the Daily Mail and General Trust buying this newspaper. Last week, I suggested that my wager is safe, notwithstanding the announcement that The Independent is moving into DMGT's headquarters in Kensington, and will share some back-office services. I still think so. But my doctor, who has a proper care for my digestive tracts, has suggested I limit my wager to a year from the time it was made, on the basis that no one can be expected to peer too far into the future. I think I might as well accept his advice. A year it is, then. Or why not say six months?
Photography rules should reflect the internet age
It is scarcely possible to open a paper these days without seeing a photograph that has been "pixellated" to disguise the identity of a subject. In last Wednesday's Daily Mail, for example, there were three pixellated pictures: a man being interviewed by a policeman; the three police officers searching Damian Green's Commons office, who were also pixellated in other papers; and a young child sitting on the lap of his recently widowed mother.
The Mail chose not to use, rather than pixellate, a fourth picture – that of Georgina Hobday, whose parents' very pleasant house in Brighton was vandalised during her 16th birthday party after people had read about it on the Facebook website. Yet The Sun and The Daily Mirror each ran a mugshot of Georgina, who is clearly an attractive young woman, while The Daily Telegraph carried a large full-length picture of her.
Presumably the Mail was concerned about legal issues. The Press Complaints Commission Code of Conduct prohibits newspapers running pictures of children under 16 without the permission of a parent or guardian. In this case, Georgina's parents did not give consent – though she is now 16 – and the girl herself removed the picture from the Facebook website. The Mail seems to have felt that in these circumstances it should not run the photograph. However, other newspapers did so on the basis that it was published on the website of Georgina's sister.
The quandary illustrates a wider point: newspapers are much more constrained than websites such as Facebook, for which considerations of privacy barely impinge. They are forced to abide by much tougher rules. In this case, the newspapers that did carry Georgina's photograph were probably justified in doing so, because it had already been published on the internet.
It seems wrong to hobble the press with restrictions that are not observed elsewhere.
Nation should never speak kindly unto terrorists
When, precisely is a terrorist not a terrorist? When he (or she) is on the BBC. During the Mumbai massacre, terrorists were referred to as "militants".
According to a BBC spokesman: "This is nothing to do with political correctness. We are calling them bombers or militants. The fact is that terrorist does not have a universal meaning.
"It translates as freedom fighter in certain languages."
Have you ever heard a more specious defence? It is not the job of the BBC to worry about how English words may be translated into other languages.
If the corporation discovered that in certain Polynesian languages the word "spade" was translated as "fork" or even "AK47", would it avoid using it? Of course not.
The reason that the BBC does not use the word terrorist is because it thinks it carries a critical judgement.
And so it does. Terrorists are not nice people. Why should we gift-wrap killers who go around Mumbai murdering innocent civilians?
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