Stephen Glover: Magazines that peddle celebrity gossip should also be scrutinised

There's a whole section of the industry that Leveson is ignoring

Stephen Glover
Monday 02 January 2012 01:00

The Leveson Inquiry has heard many discreditable stories about tabloid misbehaviour. We can't know whether all of them are true but it seems likely many are. Most allegations concern unwarranted intrusion, of which the News of the World's phone hacking is the most egregious example. Only occasionally has it been suggested that the tabloids regularly make things up. Richard Peppiatt told the inquiry how as a reporter on the Daily Star he invented a piece about the model Kelly Brook seeing a hypnotist, for which he was paid a bonus.

And yet there are other successful publications in the business of beating up stories on a scale that makes the red-tops look like amateurs, though as far as I am aware they have not been mentioned during the inquiry. I am speaking of women's weekly magazines which specialise in celebrity gossip. Although they often advertise stories on their front covers that are obviously far-fetched, they don't attract public censure, or cross Lord Justice Leveson's radar even fleetingly.

For example, the cover of a recent edition of Look (weekly circulation 285,884) offers: "Kate – The Untold Story – 'Why I can't have a baby yet'." Since the revelation is in inverted commas, readers are invited to believe that the Duchess of Cambridge has divulged this information to the magazine. In fact, as is usual in these cases, the unbylined story inside goes less far, and cites "friends" to whom she has allegedly confided.

Articles in these magazines are awash with unidentified "friends" who are eager to tell us extraordinary stuff which even the red-tops don't know about. Another of Look's recent covers advertises a "secret crisis" concerning "Kate" and her "new body obsession". The article, in effect, alleges that the Duchess is anorexic, and suggests this is a matter of great concern to her sister, Pippa, though relations between them have evidently been "strained". As a result of Pippa's intervention, Kate is said by an unnamed, and remarkably well-informed source to be feeling "a lot better".

It is indeed wondrous how Look and other women's magazines know the inner private thoughts of celebrities without having had to go to the bother of hacking their phones. A recent edition of Closer (weekly circulation 459,693) has discovered that "glamour model" Jordan will "do anything to get back" her former paramour Peter Andre, who is however reported to be less enthusiastic. Now magazine (weekly circulation 309,202) miraculously knows about Cheryl Cole's secret trysts with her ex-husband Ashley, while Grazia (weekly circulation 206,764) has the inside story about the eating disorder of the actress Demi Moore following the break-up of her marriage.

With their reliance on unidentified but omniscient "friends", and their amazingly fertile imaginations, women's magazines can make the red-tops look flat-footed. The question is how they get away with it. One explanation may be that they almost never write about politicians or serious public figures, and have therefore escaped the notice of legislators, who tend to be less indulgent of erring newspapers. Another is that, although many of their stories seem inventive, if not utterly fantastical, there is a persistent undertow of sympathy, even sycophancy, towards the celebrities whom they write about.

Maybe we shouldn't spoil the fun if celebrities are not up in arms, the magazines are making money, and readers are not objecting. But journalistically much of this stuff is on the wilder shores, and it is odd that newspapers are being put through the mangle while women's magazines have barely been noticed. Far be it from me to prolong Lord Justice Leveson's deliberations, but he would do well to take a look at them before his inquiry resumes next Monday.

No cause for Labour to complain about the BBC

According to yesterday's Observer, Labour has made a "serious complaint" to the BBC about its supposed lack of balance. Party officials have monitored the Corporation's coverage, and they claim that Labour is represented less than half as often as the Coalition.

They may be right about the figures, but it is fanciful to believe that the BBC's coverage is biased in favour of the Government. The opposite is closer to the truth, with the state of the economy sometimes being painted in even darker colours than the admittedly dire situation warrants. For example, Radio 4's Today programme recently made much of the Government's suggestion that the revised growth figures for the third quarter would show that the economy was "even worse than we thought". In the event the official figures were revised upwards from 0.5 to 0.6 per cent – a fact the BBC either downplayed or even ignored in later bulletins.

Labour may have a point in relation to the Corporation's coverage of Ed Miliband, where its lack of enthusiasm for the Labour leader mirrors that of the entire press. It is a question of tone rather than outright scepticism. If many Labour MPs and some Shadow Cabinet members privately think Mr Miliband is pretty hopeless, I'm not sure it is fair to criticise the BBC for reflecting these views.

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