TALK OF THE TRADE
Tuesday 04 April 1995
With Bill O'Neill firmly in place at Wapping as News International's new chief executive, more information is leaking out about why Gus Fischer and his team were abruptly replaced by Rupert Murdoch. Since newsprint is bought in New York for the group, the shortage being suffered by the titles was never a convincing reason. The answer is that Murdoch is looking ahead to a potential Labour government, and cleaning up his industrial relations act after breaking the print unions with the move to Wapping in 1986. Insiders say that the non-unionised printworkers, who were originally bussed in from as far away as Southampton, are deeply unhappy. They have pushed up output at the print works wildly beyond expectations with the increase in supplements and, latterly, the price cuts, but have not shared in the productivity gains. Many are said to be very fed up - militant, even. A Labour government is expected to introduce new employment rights, allowing staff (where more than 50 per cent are union members) to vote for a unionised closed shop - a development that would negate Murdoch's gains. But he does not want a confrontation with a Labour government. Those on the receiving end of Bill O'Neill's instructions say that so far, all his statements have been carefully conciliatory.
Jaspan steams in
Andrew Jaspan rounded off his first week as editor of the Observer with a letter to readers, immodestly displayed on page 2 and topped with a flattering, close-cropped photograph, introducing himself and asking for their views on the paper. "I will edit an open-minded, challenging and questioning paper," he promised, pointing to its editorial independence through the ownership of the Scott Trust, which controls the Guardian Media Group. Journalists confirm he came into the building bustling with all the energy he is famed for, very clear about what he did and did not want in that week's paper. The quirky weekly feature from The Men Who Know failed to appear, while Melanie Phillips's social conscience column was turned into a feature about community morals and promoted to the top of the page, in an attempt to liven up the opinion pages. In another innovation, the foreign editor, Ann Treneman, introduced her world news section with a sharp introduction, explaining to readers why the paper was running that particular selection of stories. Jaspan also promised brighter writing, since "we are borrowing and sometimes intruding on an hour of your time".
Richard Dunn, the former Thames chief executive who has just lined up a senior job at News International Television, left last weekend for a well-earned family holiday in the Caribbean. Dunn had seen a long-standing rival appointed as his titular boss - Greg Dyke, chairman of Pearson Television, which owns Thames - and spent a few months weighing offers, including one to become director-general of SES, the Luxembourg-based owners of the Astra satellite, before accepting an invitation from Sam Chisholm.
Rupert Murdoch's key TV executive outside the US. Dunn will arrive at BSkyB, 40 per cent owned by Mr Murdoch, on 18 April, tanned and ready. Among his first duties: advising on BSkyB's bid for Channel Five, the new terrestrial television channel. And he will, of course, be working alongside his former Thames TV chum David Elstein, director of programmes for BSkyB. You couldn't have written the script...
Dyke gets finger out
Channel 4's new season proves that Greg Dyke has enjoyed at least some gainful employment over the past few months. In the sports documentary series Fair Game, this loyal follower of Manchester United and Brentford conducts six investigations into major sports. Of equal interest will be The Politician's Wife, a three-part drama series starring Juliet Stevenson and Trevor Eve, in which an affair between a Tory minister for the family and an escort girl is exposed in the press. "We're not expecting any complaints from Conservative Central Office," a Channel 4 type explained at the launch last week, "it's far too close to the mark."
Angels on the air
Britain's first commercial radio station devoted to gay issues and programming will go on air in May, after being granted a licence to broadcast for a month. Freedom FM, which has grown out of a north London community fund- raising group called the Pink Angels, will offer a mix of phone-ins, music and current affairs. It is also proposing a daily soap, North Benders, about a fictional gay community in Islington, a lesbian and gay Blind Date, and a daily children's slot featuring the fairy stories of Oscar Wilde. Several big commercial radio players, their eyes on the pink pound, will be listening with interest.
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