Richard Ingrams: I've heard the one about 'impartial arbiters' before


Rupert Murdoch is so old now that he no doubt hopes there won't be too many of us around who remember what happened when he bought The Times almost exactly 30 years ago.

The same doubts about editorial independence were then being expressed just as they are now in relation to Sky News. If Murdoch gains total control, the critics say, what is to stop the Sky News channel from becoming like the Fox News channel in America, notorious for its strident right-wing propaganda and support of Tea Party nutters?

Murdoch's response is to propose the setting up of a board of impartial arbiters to guarantee the editorial independence of the Sky News editors. This is precisely the same proposal as was made and accepted in 1981. Not only did Murdoch make a personal pledge that his editors would be free to express news that might directly conflict with his business interests, but he also announced the formation of a board of independent directors who included the distinguished historian Hugh Trevor-Roper to make sure that editorial integrity was preserved.

Where are they now, we might very well ask, now that The Times quite shamelessly reflects the political opinions of its proprietor, while attacking the BBC and doing its best to promote friendly relations with the Chinese?

Children are growing up in an age of fear

The headmaster of a Catholic primary school in Lancashire was encouraged by the authorities to stage a re-enactment of the Blitz. He announced to the school assembly that war had broken out, whereupon an air raid siren started up and all the children were led down into a cellar by their teachers.

But the project had to be abandoned when several children became upset. The headmaster admitted that many of them had later suffered from nightmares. Such reactions may not be unique to Lancashire, when children all over the country are currently being spoon-fed the history of the Second World War, including all the horrors of Hitler, the Blitz and the Holocaust.

While pundits debate the curriculum, it might be a good idea to debate the question of whether its right to make small children worried in this way. And it isn't just the war. The Government is simultaneously encouraging schools to introduce lessons on the threat of global warming, using cartoon films to show people being swept away by rising flood water, etc.

If that doesn't induce nightmares, children may well be kept awake worrying about whether they are gay or not, and if that's not enough they can soon, with the help of the newly introduced lessons about money, start fretting about whether they'll ever be able t o afford a mortgage.

The real story of the King's speech

Acclaimed for its historical accuracy, the film The King's Speech is now tipped to win several Oscars. As we all know – even those of us who have yet to see the film or who may never ever get to see it – it tells the story of how King George VI fought a heroic battle to overcome his stammer with the help of an outspoken speech therapist called Logue. It all builds up to a triumphant conclusion when the king (played by Colin Firth) makes a word-perfect broadcast to his faithful subjects at the outbreak of war.

But now a shadow of doubt has been cast on this inspiring story by the posthumous confessions of a Mr David Martin, who died two years ago. In letters to his family before his death, Mr Martin describes how as a young man of 19 he was employed by the BBC to remove all the stutters from the king's wartime speeches which Churchill considered mightily important for the nation's morale.

It was a difficult task, he told his daughter, in the days when recordings were made on metal discs, but the young Martin, working alone in a cramped studio, struggled heroically "to iron out the pauses, stutters and fluffs".

This sounds to me a much more interesting and possibly more authentic story than the one told in The King's Speech. Maybe someone could turn it into a film.