Monday 09 March 1998
Ray Snoddy had almost doubled his salary by defecting from the Financial Times to the The Times, and he wasn't taking too kindly to being ribbed about taking the Murdoch shilling. In fact, for a few nerve-racking moments, I seriously feared that the doyen of media correspondents might stab me with his masala-stained knife and fork.
Lesson: never question the personal integrity of a red-headed Ulsterman who has swallowed rather a lot of lager.
Still, I would love to have another ding-dong with old Ray before the Chris Patten/ HarperCollins dispute fades into the mists of time. This time the venue would have to be a Chinese restaurant, and I'd insist that Snoddy forgo metal cutlery for blunt wooden chopsticks.
The former presenter of Channel 4's Hard News is having a hell of a hard time these days, as it becomes painfully apparent to him what the price for being media editor of the Murdochian Times really is.
Until his master made a grovelling apology to the former governor of Hong Kong on Friday evening, Snoddy's sole contribution to coverage of the Patten affair had been to scribble down obediently the Dirty Digger's snarling denunciations of his hapless subordinates at HarperCollins, as he was chauffeur-driven to Luton airport.
When he wasn't reduced to playing the role of a shorthand secretary in Fortress Wapping, Snoddy was seeking to justify his failure to cover the affair with the lame excuse that he had been unable to move the story on. He moved it on, all right, when his master's voice came on the blower on Tuesday evening. Obviously feeling guilty about churning out corporate propaganda for News Corporation, Raymond Snoddy - he prefers to go by his full first name in print - treated us all to a little sermon on the moral responsibilities of media correspondents in modern Britain.
His weekly column in The Times was headlined "It's our job to tell the truth about the Corp". But he proceeded to tell us nothing at all about Murdoch's News Corp and its shameful dealings with Chris Patten, or the generally egregious way in which its boss is seeking to worm his way into what is potentially the world's biggest media market-place.
I feel sorry for Ray Snoddy - who went to Wapping not just for a huge salary hike, I understand, but because he had grown a little frustrated at the FT, where he had to regard the media solely as a business. Understandably, he wanted a broader canvas. His mistake was to join the payroll of a man who views his newspapers as nothing more than business products, and a means of ingratiating himself with governments around the globe.
We media pundits need to pick our proprietor carefully for, like it or not, we always end up being economical with the truth about the media organisation that pays our monthly mortgage.
The Dirty Digger doesn't behave like other newspaper proprietors simply by preventing his resident media pundits from washing his company's dirty linen in public. (Let's get real, no media company - certainly no plc - would pay anyone to do that.) Murdoch goes much farther.
As shown by the paper's own veteran China-watcher, Jonathan Mirsky, in his damning statements to the Freedom Forum - embarrassingly blasted on to the Internet last week - Murdoch will distort or suppress negative coverage of shady regimes, where he calculates that doing so will help him to expand his media empire.
The Times became a division of News Corp's corporate affairs department the moment Murdoch acquired that once proud title, as former leader writer Richard Davy powerfully reminds us in Media+ today.
That was why many fine journalists became Wapping refuseniks: not simply because they didn't want to shaft their comrades in the printing unions, but because they could no longer stand to work for a newspaper which had been stripped of its intellectual integrity and had abandoned its objectivity.
Last week was a major watershed. It was the week in which Keith Rupert Murdoch's amoral masterplan for constructing a global media empire at any human cost anywhere on this planet was laid bare for all to see. Now no number of smart sermons by his Wapping wordsmiths - past or present - can convince anyone with half a brain that he's on a par with any other press baron in Britain.
The Great British public don't buy that, if the straw poll on BBC's Question Time last Thursday is in any way representative of national opinion: 80 per cent of the studio audience in Leeds agreed with the statement that "Rupert Murdoch has too much power". If only a similarly high proportion stopped buying the Murdoch press, we might return to something resembling a modern democracy on this island.
As for poor old Ray Snoddy, I wouldn't have his job for all the TVs in China. At the risk of sounding sanctimonious - and of flying chopsticks - what does it profit the doyen of media correspondents if he almost doubles his salary but loses his journalistic soul?
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