Richard Ingrams' Week: The magazine protection racket

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The Independent Online

Claire Curtis-Thomas, below, the Labour MP for Crosby, claimed on Wednesday that the chairman of WH Smith refused to see her when she requested a meeting to discuss the proliferation of so-called lads' magazines in his shops.

WH Smith has said this is not true but, whatever the truth of the matter, it would not surprise me. Why should this massive concern with its monopoly position in the marketing of magazines concern itself with the views of an obscure Labour backbencher?

Moral issues aside, those of us in the magazine business ought to be concerned about the policies of WH Smith, especially now that the company has discovered it can make more money from selling sweets and soft drinks than it can from the printed word.

What is the result? The variety of magazines on sale is reduced and the shops stock only the ones with big circulations, like the one Claire Curtis-Thomas objects to. Smaller magazines such asThe Oldie, which I edit, are told that even with a circulation of 25,000, it is not profitable for WH Smith to stock them - not surprising if they don't put them on sale.

So WH Smith is now demanding payment from magazines - in my case £2,000 - to go on selling them. And if we don't pay up we are told we will be "delisted", ie, dropped completely. It reminds you a bit of a protection racket.

The obscenity of Jonathan Ross

The reason for the apparent decrease in crime is that people have given up reporting something like a break-in to the police because they know that nothing will be done about it. All they are likely to get is the offer of counselling to help them to come to terms with their post-break-in situation.

The same principle now applies in many walks of life. Defending his recent obscene interview with David Cameron, Jonathan Ross pointed out that of 4 million people who watched his programme, only 21 had complained to the BBC. So what's all the fuss about?

But Ross probably knows just as well as I do that there are hundreds, possibly thousands of people who find him degrading and offensive but do not bother to register a complaint to the BBC because they know that, as with the police, nothing whatever will be done.

Such a view was confirmed by the BBC, which in reaction to the protests said it was standing by the interview, which had in any case been screened after 9pm, the so-called watershed after which the BBC feels free to broadcast all manner of foul-mouthed rubbish with impunity.

In a week when Josephine Rooney, 69, in Derbyshire, was sent to prison for refusing to pay her council tax, I wonder how long it will be before a similarly courageous person, outraged by the millions of pounds we pay to the likes of Jonathan Ross, will refuse to pay the licence fee.

* There is a danger talking about Britain's nuclear deterrent the way people are currently doing because it is likely to lead to questions about who we are hoping to deter.

During the Cold War there might have been a case for saying that we were deterring the Russians, but who now has nuclear weapons pointing in our direction?

And history seems to support the view that the deterrent theory does work. When both sides had nuclear weapons in the Cold War, then hot war was avoided. Much the same could be said about the conflicts between India and Pakistan, both nuclear powers.

The only situation where the argument doesn't seem to apply is the Middle East. Here only one side, Israel, has nuclear weapons. But when it looks as if Iran might try to compete, a major panic breaks out. Yet according to the old logic, an Iranian nuclear bomb ought to guarantee peace and security, just like in the Cold War.

The only explanation of the different approach is that the Iranians, unlike ourselves and the Americans, are thought to be excitable Muslims who cannot be trusted with a nuclear arsenal. Therefore, while we in Britain talk about our nuclear deterrent the same word will not apply in the Iranian context.

The Iranians are said to be after something called a nuclear capability, however much they might claim that they want to be able to defend themselves against a possible Israeli attack.

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