Editor-At-Large: Here is the news on BBC1 - the best reason yet to buy a paper

Wossie's line that he was worth a thousand BBC journalists chimes with the ridiculous duplication of broadcast reporting
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The Independent Online

In this season of goodwill, let's raise our glasses to Jonathan Ross, who has sent fellow workers into a tizzy by telling the audience at the British Comedy Awards last week that he was worth "a thousand BBC journalists". Thank God, there is one person employed by the corporation who isn't afraid to speak their mind, and doesn't couch what they say in politically correct double-speak or management waffle. Jonathan Ross earns about 6m a year a sum that would probably pay the hospitality and security bill for one irrelevant EU summit, build a palace for one corrupt leader in the Third World, or, put another way, pay for several hundred people working in different parts of the same organisation to produce news items for radio and telly channels on exactly the same subjects over a year-long period.

Jonathan Ross might not be to your taste I always find his television persona a bit too lavatorial and boysie but you cannot deny he is extremely bright and sharp as a razor when hosting an awards ceremony with a fractious, noisy, inebriated audience full of liggers, agents, journalists and performers who turn up each year at events such as the British Comedy Awards.

This is not an occasion known for high standards in decorum: not too long ago, Julian Clary's career took a bit of a nosedive for a couple of years after he made a joke about a senior Tory politician when hosting the same event. Through reality television shows such as Strictly Come Dancing and a best-selling autobiography he slowly inched his way back into the mainstream something Jonathan Ross, for all the jokes about sex and Chris Langham, has never left.

This year, ITV pulled out of televising the awards and cancelled the people's choice vote, depriving viewers of an opportunity to vote for their favourite entertainer, and denying the audience the chance to see a show that brought in millions of viewers, but was always full of filth, smut, dodgy jokes and bad behaviour, and that was after the worst bits were edited out!

We all know that the BBC has found itself with a 2bn shortfall, and rather than axe any channels, has decided to lose 2,500 jobs through retirement and natural wastage. Now, it is seeking 370 job cuts in the news division, and the unions involved, the NUJ and Bectu have balloted members over strike action. Highly paid presenters such as Today's John Humphrys and Newsnight's Jeremy Paxman have spoken out against the proposed cuts and few would disagree that excellent standards in news reporting are at the very heart of what we expect from the BBC.

But, all over the country there is chronic duplication in newsrooms. Night after night, you see items on the main news bulletins carried all over again in your local opt-out. And why does Radio 3 have a completely different news bulletin from Radio 4 during the day at times such as 9am? Why is one set of people billed as experts on BBC News 24, another on the radio, and a third lot on the television?

It's not rocket science, but it's perfectly clear that if you are an economics expert you can broadcast in all media, radio or television. The main news bulletins of the day consist of endless hand-overs between presenters doing very little except standing in front of closed doors in Downing Street or in front of Big Ben when there's nothing happening. The other night, the 10pm news presented a background profile of Labour donor David Abrahams that was threadbare compared with any of the national newspapers, and this was the main story of the day.

News has become confused with presentation and style, so content has been cut by about half, giving way to infantile graphics that mean little accompanied by arm-flapping experts standing in front of them. Night after night I finish watching the 10pm news and think it's the best argument going for buying a morning newspaper. As part of its spending review, the BBC has brought in a firm of consultants to look at what it pays top talent such as Jonathan Ross a job it could have done itself and saved licence-payers several thousands which could have been spent on programmes.

I doubt very much that they will be cutting the salary of Jonathan Ross he is worth every penny. And, by the way, I believe he was being ironic.

Brave Natascha joins the media circus

Women have found it notoriously difficult to break into the world of hosting television talk shows, which is another reason why Mr Ross can command such a high salary. From Gaby Roslin to Davina McCall, there have been plenty of stars who didn't succeed, and the only woman who manages to attract viewers Katie Price is "assisted" by her husband and broadcasts on ITV2.

Now, an unlikely new talent is going to try where more professional females have failed Natascha Kampusch, the girl who was imprisoned in a cellar in Austria for eight years. Since her release, 19 year-old Natascha has undergone intensive psychotherapy. Her captor, Wolfgang Priklopil, who had sex with her during her imprisonment, threw himself under a train when she was found, and she has spoken in interviews about the complicated feelings she still has for him.

It's hardly surprising that Natascha wants to work in the media: every aspect of her life has been the focus of intense speculation ever since she emerged from her tiny cell.

A toast to Harold and his world of excess

If you can choose one book to read over Christmas, I recommend Harold Robbins: the Man Who Invented Sex, by Andrew Wilson. The biography of the originator of tacky blockbuster novels such as The Carpetbaggers reveals that he considered himself to be the greatest storyteller alive and his life was as outrageous as one of his epics.

Harold Robbins wrote novels where the women always had giant breasts and were hot for sex. His command of the English language was rudimentary, his heroes and heroines modelled on people such as Howard Hughes and Lana Turner.

In real life, Harold Robbins realised that he was a short, not very attractive, balding Jewish guy and, to make himself the centre of attention, he wore ludicrously vulgar outfits and told enormous lies about his upbringing. Everything about his life was embellished with fibs: he claimed that he was an orphan and he delivered his own children. He was smart enough to work out that if you gave journalists good copy, they wrote bigger stories about you and your books got more publicity.

Harold loved orgies, drugs, women in bikinis, and oral sex. He wrote facing a blank wall, and churned out his stuff to order. I remember running into Harold and his second wife Grace in a nightclub in Los Angeles in the 1970s. It was the opening night of something called La Cage aux Folles, with lots of trannies in drag the best of which was a hugely fat "Diana Ross". Grace Robbins stood out in a white minidress, wearing solid gold finger nails that were almost two inches long. Wonderful days!

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