Philip Hensher: Terrible news made worse in the telling

Friends and family were astonished to read in La Nazione an interview with Guido
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Last week, our friend Guido Galli's body was recovered from the rubble after the earthquake in Haiti. He was a wonderful man, who lit up any room he entered, and who could start a party anywhere, from Geneva to Kandahar. He worked in desperately poor parts of the world, always maintaining good humour and a commitment to justice. Probably hundreds of people across the world really loved him; the tragedy of Haiti continues on an overwhelming scale, but the loss of a single friend is as much as anyone can feel.

In the days after the earthquake and before the confirmation of Guido's death, the news was contradictory and often wrong. The Italian foreign ministry included Guido's name on a list of survivors. Guido's social network pages filled up with passionately relieved messages – the use of these blandly cheerful websites to convey the most harrowing facts about people is, I suppose, something we will get used to.

But no one could reach Guido, and shortly his partner, Felipe Camargo, posted a heartbreaking message warning us that Guido's survival was unconfirmed. There was nothing to do but wait. At this point, however, enter the Italian newspaper, La Nazione, with catastrophic effect.

Guido's friends and family at home in Florence were astonished to find in the pages of La Nazione an interview with Guido. It came out a day after the erroneous official statement that Guido had survived. The interviewer, Amadore Agostini, claimed to have spoken to Guido on the telephone, and quoted him at some length. There seemed to be no confusion: details of Guido's career were shared with the paper's readers.

Everyone should have known it could not be true – the idea that Guido would have been able to speak to an Italian journalist but not to his partner or family ought to have been obviously impossible. But in a situation like this, every glimmer of hope is hung on to. Perhaps the journalist reached him by a fluke before the telephone broke down again. Perhaps he had not even been able to pass a message on. Perhaps. Nothing more was heard.

On Sunday, Guido was found dead. It is hard to overstate how much distress and anger the false interview in La Nazione caused his family and friends. But what had happened? Many people assumed one thing, that the journalist had seen the erroneous list of survivors and had contrived an interview which would seem plausible enough. One Italian newspaper said that "journalism died" with this story.

But La Nazione was adamant that it had spoken to someone. It claimed it had mistaken another Italian speaker in Haiti for Guido, and had quoted him as saying "many of his colleagues were dead". It was quite unable, however, to say who this male Italian officer of the UN in Haiti could have been: something that should not, after all, be impossible to find out in four telephone calls. Nor was it able to explain how it was possible to speak at length to someone, discover a complete career path, and at no point find out that it was not speaking to Guido Galli.

In my view, the value of the apology and explanation La Nazione printed is limited; it was written by the same journalist, Agostini, who wrote the original story. There are many people in Tuscany this week who will find it difficult ever to buy the paper again.

Guido's partner, together with friends around the world, are setting up a foundation in his memory with the aim of providing effective support to families of victims of natural disasters, the Guido Galli Foundation.

Cultural theft? Or just wiggling their bottoms?

You would have thought it was impossible to make the sport of ice dancing any more ludicrous than it already is. The Russian pair Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin managed it this week. Invited to perform an interpretation of a "folk dance" on ice, to the sound of jaws dropping they went onto the ice dressed as Australian Aborigines, with fake body paint – on a dark body suit for Shabalin. Protests from the Aboriginal Land Council will be forthcoming to the Russian ambassador. Is that really the most effective protest, however? It seems unlikely that, as the Land Council says, the dance was "stolen without our permission...It's straightforward cultural theft." I mean, come on – it was on ice. On. Ice. They were mostly just wiggling their bums about and grinning.

If the Russian pair did anything recognisable by an Aborigine as authentic to the culture, I'd be amazed. Supporters of the dignity of aboriginal culture might do well to respond as we did to the performance. We burst out laughing. It was the most risible thing I've seen on TV this year. Super-efficient Russian performers can ignore pained official protests with ease. What might make them think twice is an audience laughing fit to bust.

Why Goldenballs needs all those minders

A journalist, Elena di Cioccio, ran up to David Beckham in public and grabbed his genitals. She said she wanted to find out whether the contents of his underpants had been digitally enhanced for an earlier poster campaign.

Beckham is a good-humoured sort, but his tolerance may have been somewhat stretched by being sexually assaulted by a stranger. Not that many seemed to think of it in those terms. Some have said that since he "has used his sexuality so ruthlessly, [he] cannot complain if it is used against him". A splendid example of double standards.

We know what we would think if a male journalist ran up to, say, Katie Price and did the same, saying he wanted to find out "how large it was". He would quite rightly be under arrest immediately. The sight of Beckham in his underpants is probably familiar to most people in the Western hemisphere. All the same, he is entitled to have some say in who is permitted to grope him.

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