Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Monsters Are Crazy

When America's influential political comedy half-hour The Daily Show's Jon Stewart and John Oliver did their first real coverage of Hackgate two nights ago, they invented a new word. A word to convey the feeling many people across the world - particularly on the broad left of the political spectrum - have towards what has happened to Rupert Murdoch's media empire over the last two weeks. Schadenfreudegasm. Essentially, an almost sexual inappropriate - but very satisfying - pleasure at the misfortune of others. Or, in this particular case, the misfortune of one. Watching the British media and political classes closely over the last week-and-a-half has been a curious case of the sudden discovery of what happens when a worm turns, big-style. It's like a cork has been released from a bottle as politicians, broadcasters, other journalists (and, indeed, members of the public) for too long cowed by the abject fear of Murdoch and his newspapers and TV news channel turning on them if they got on the wrong side of him suddenly, simultaneously, thinking 'you know what? Sod 'im, I'm saying something about this. Because it's wrong.' As the Gruniad's Andrew Sparrow put in: 'For the last thirty years at least, the British political establishment has lived in dread of Rupert Murdoch. Although the real influence of his papers has been probably been wildly exaggerated, the Tories have always craved his support. Neil Kinnock loathed him, but Tony Blair actively courted the Murdoch press. Until late 2009 one of the unofficial rules of New Labour was: "Never do anything that might offend News International." Only last month David Cameron, Ed Miliband and others were paying homage to the tycoon at his London summer party. If you had told Cameron and Miliband over the champagne that only a few weeks later that they would be uniting in the Commons to pass a motion opposing Murdoch's bid for BSkyB they would have thought you were barmy. Yet that's exactly what's going to happen today. As the New York Times has argued, Britain is going through its own version of the Arab spring. Truly, a spell has been broken.' This has manifested itself in all sorts of ways, not least the sudden realisation that Sky News is a thoroughly knackerless entity without Murdoch's umbrella of fear covering it. Chris Bryant making that odious and deceitful Burley woman look like what she is, small, being very much a case in point. But, the biggest change has been seen in the way senior politicians - three party leaders, for a kick off - who even just a couple of days ago still seemed reluctant to take the final plunge - have been growing a pair and lining up to back calls for Murdoch to drop his wish to takeover BSkyB. In a rather moving example of 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend' Murdoch will today face the humiliation of the Commons issuing a unanimous all-party call for his scandal-ridden News Corporation to withdraw its eight billion pound bid for BSkyB, the great commercial prize which he has been pursuing to cement his dominance of the British media landscape. That sort of thing doesn't usually happen in politics except in times of war or some other great crisis. Perhaps that's exactly what this is. Indeed, it could be argued that the organ which has, it certainly believes, effectively run this country for the last thirty years, has been toppled. In an extraordinary volte-face, David Cameron will disown the media tycoon by leading his party through the lobbies to urge him to drop the bid. Murdoch can, of course, defy parliament and press ahead with the bid regardless, prompting a Competition Commission inquiry, but he risks finding himself ostracised by a political class that once scrambled to bend to his wishes and kiss his ring. As the Metro noted in its headline on Wednesday morning, Westminster goes to war on Murdoch. Cameron will also announce today that a judge is to oversee an inquiry into phone hacking, and that a panel will examine the future regulation of the media. The judge – who will be named today – will lead the main inquiry into the hacking allegations, which is expected to be modelled on the Hutton inquiry into the death of David Kelly in 2003. It is understood that the inquiry will also examine 'the relationships between police and the press, and politicians and the press.' The inquiry will not sit in public until the criminal investigation has completed its course. Yesterday, in the latest of a series of strategic coups which have left Downing Street looking flat-footed and behind the curve of public opinion, the Labour leader Ed Milimolimandi tabled a Commons motion for debate urging News Corporation to withdraw the bid 'in the public interest.' It's been an extraordinary few days for Miliband who, from looking like a busted flush not very long ago has shown steady and rather impressive leadership saying pretty much the right things at the right time, answering some tough questions and, most importantly, unlike his two immediate predecessors and one of his main politician rivals, being more or less untouched by links to the now hated News Corp/News International elite. With the Liberal Democrats certain to back Labour's simple motion, the prime minister took the rare and (possibly legally questionable) step of rowing in behind the opposition, even though only the day before Downing Street insisted that he and the lack of culture secretary, the vile and odious rascal Hunt, must remain impartial on the takeover. Miliband will lead the debate and will argue that the bid has to be withdrawn - at least until police and judicial investigations into phone hacking and police bribery at News International have been completed. That could be as long as 2014. Cameron's spokesman said that it was for News Corp to decide how to respond to the vote, but added: 'We would always expect people to take seriously what parliament says.' A spokesman for the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, said that the vote represents 'an extraordinary unified statement of the will of the people. It is unimaginable that any public corporation or public figure will want to ignore such a strong statement by the legislature of this country.' Of course, what it really proves is that one thing politicians - if they're any good - know is how to read an opinion polls. Recent examples have shown that around seventy per cent of the British public are now against News International's acquisition of the sixty per cent of Sky it does not already own. And, if there's one thing no politician wants, it's to be on the wrong side of over two thirds of the public. Clegg first called for Murdoch to withdraw the bid on Monday, when Cameron also said he thought Murdoch's priority should be to sort out 'malpractices' in his company. First indications suggest that the News Corp chairman is likely to attempt to ignore the vote in parliament, and turn down an invitation to give evidence to the culture select committee next Tuesday. James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks have also been asked to attend - in the case of Brooks, as she is a British citizen it is possible that she could be compelled to attend. The pressure remains on other News Corp executives, with Murdoch's closest adviser Les Hinton reported to be flying into the UK yesterday. In London, BSkyB's shares fell another three per cent to six hundred and ninety two pence because investors fear that Murdoch's bid could be delayed indefinitely or scrapped altogether. News Corp, which owns thirty nine per cent of BSkyB, is determined to keep the lucrative bid alive, and on Monday withdrew its proposal to spin off Sky News as a financially and editorially independent unit. The move effectively forced the vile and odious rascal Hunt to refer the bid to the Competition Commission. The switch in tactics gave Murdoch the chance to capture BSkyB before a police investigation or judicial inquiry had been completed. A Competition Commission inquiry can only last a maximum of nine months, before a recommendation must be referred to the vile and odious rascal Hunt. The lack of culture secretary will abstain in today's Commons vote in an effort to 'preserve his political impartiality over the bid.' Or, possibly, because he's just about the only politician in Britain who is still terrified of pulling back his bedsheets at night and finding a horses head in there. Privately, Downing Street is said to be 'frustrated' at the way Miliband has effectively shaped the political agenda in the past week, and Cameron is hoping to regain the initiative today when he sets out the terms of reference of the inquiry into the crisis. The prime minister held discussions yesterday with John Whittingdale, the chairman of the culture select committee, and Keith Vaz, the chairman of the home affairs select committee. Vaz's committee criticised John Yates, the assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan police, on Tuesday for his handling of the investigation into hacking. The select committee appearances of several current and former senior police officers left much to be desired in terms of candour and, apparently, competence. Cameron is also expected to announce plans to strengthen transparency rules over meetings between ministers and media figures, including for the first time private social meetings. Like the ones he himself used to regularly have with well-known Crystal Tipps-lookalike Rebekah Brooks. Until now, ministers have declined to publish details of meetings with senior media figures, bar those that are defined as business meetings. Ministers are also looking at new rules designed to oversee the future employment of former senior police officers. Andy Hayman, the Met's assistant commissioner in charge of the investigation into News International in 2005-6, ended up working for them. Haymen was one of those who appeared before the select committee yesterday and his performance was described by Vaz as 'more Clouseau than Columbo.' Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers, the officer leading Scotland Yard’s new inquiry - and the only one to come out of the select committee with her reputation enhanced in any way - suggested to MPs that the scope of the investigation could be widened beyond journalists at the News of the World to include the 'criminal liability of directors.' Broadening the inquiry could implicate more senior managers at the defunct tabloid's owners, including James Murdoch, the chairman of News International, and Rebekah Brooks. The Metropolitan Police accused News International of 'lying' during the original investigation into phone hacking at the News of the World. Senior officers told MPs that Murdoch's company had deliberately undermined a criminal inquiry, a move which could leave senior executives facing prosecution. Peter Clarke, the former deputy assistant commissioner of the Met, said: 'If at any time News International had offered some meaningful co-operation instead of lies, we would not be here today.' The judicial inquiry is also likely to look at why the last Labour government failed to launch an inquiry into phone hacking at News International. Supporters of Gordon Brown are said to be furious that the cabinet secretary, Sir Gus O'Donnell, objected to Brown's private call for a judicial inquiry in 2010. Labour backbencher Chris Bryant - fresh from giving the odious Kay Burley a long overdue (metaphorical) slap on national telly - tabled a question asking Cameron 'to publish the advice provided by the then cabinet secretary in early 2010 to the then prime minister on the case for a statutory public inquiry into the phone-hacking scandal.' The debate will see an intense political battle between the Conservatives and Labour over which party did least to distance themselves from the Murdoch group. The Lib Dems will relish reminding the public that they shunned Murdoch all along - or, at least, until relatively recently, Nick Clegg's position in Cameron's government notwithstanding. Three of its most senior figures outside government wrote to Murdoch to accuse him of tainted journalism. The party's deputy leader, Simon Hughes, himself an alleged victim of hacking, wrote: 'People working for your company have sought to cover up the many wrongs it has committed. Your company has been accused of lying to the Press Complaints Commission by its chair. Only yesterday the police accused News International of trying to undermine the ongoing police investigation into the affair. News International is simply no longer respected in this country. Given the history of the last six or more years, it should be of little surprise to you that many people in this country have no desire to have any more of our media fall into your hands, tainted as News International is by a history of completely unacceptable journalistic practices.' Tom Watson, the Labour MP who (along with Chris Bryant) has been campaigning relentlessly on phone hacking for two years, has just told BBC News that the BBC should have woken up to this story long ago. In particular, he criticised Nick Robinson. 'Frankly, I think the BBC should probably take a look at itself. I don't think their political journalists took this story seriously when the investigation was taking place in parliament. I think Nick Robinson, the most powerful political editor in the land, missed the story of his life and this will come out in the reviews over months and years to come.'

Back to The Daily Show, for a second, it's interesting that the bit Stewart found difficult to fathom was why Americans should care about the News of the World hacking scandal when the US media is plenty of bad mothers of its own. One of them is Rupert Murdoch. 'The point is,' countered the excellent Oliver, 'do you know how hard it is to disgrace a British tabloid, Jon? The News of the World are the people who hired a private detective to learn if Freddie Mercury had HIV. Also, they're the people whose crusade against pedophiles led to a lynch mob attack and attacks on the home of a pediatrician.' Oliver's torrent of Murdoch scandal factoids later caused Jon Stewart to speak for many people throughout the world: 'Oh my god, my balls just crawled back up into my body!' There's actually a very good Reuters piece on the general US reaction to the scandal which, in a country where Murdoch's FOX News still inspires the sort of sheer terror that the Sun used to, is still largely taking place in whispers and behind closed doors.

The departure of big-earners Adrian Chiles, Christine Bleakley and Jonathan Ross to rival ITV helped the BBC cut its talent pay by nine million pounds last year. Chiles and the odious Bleakley's high-profile defection from The ONE Show to ITV's beleaguered new morning flop Daybreak in 2010 and Ross's move to front a new ITV chat show contributed to the reduced wage bill. For the first time, and after pressure from politicians, the BBC has published a detailed breakdown of how much it pays its key presenters in its 2010-11 annual report, published on Tuesday. In the year to the end of March, the BBC paid out two hundred and thirteen million pounds in talent costs, compared with two hundred and twenty two in the previous twelve months. For confidentiality reasons it does not name individuals but groups them into eight different bands of pay. The annual report reveals that nineteen individuals earned between five hundred thousand pounds and five million in 2010-11 – down from twenty one the year before. Ross was previously the BBC's highest-paid earner, but ended his exclusive deal with the corporation last July, whilst Chiles left in April. He was followed - like a faithful lapdog - by Bleakley in June after the BBC refused to become what its creative director Alan Yentob called 'a patsy' in her negotiations with ITV. The corporation also admitted that the big fall in talent pay may be difficult to repeat next year, saying: 'A resurgent commercial market has seen the departure of several high-profile individuals to other broadcasters, making further reductions challenging.' The BBC also revealed that two hundred and seventy four presenters earned more than one hundred thousand pounds during the past financial year, up from two hundred and seventy. Those understood to be among the BBC's biggest earners include Evans, Gary Lineker and Graham Norton. New BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten said that the detail in the talent pay tables was 'pretty much a non-issue as long as we can demonstrate that figures overall are under control.' Bal Samra, the BBC rights and business affairs director, added that the main reason more people were earning more than one hundred thousand pounds was an increase in in-house production, as opposed to commissioning independent companies, so that more stars contracted to the corporation were being used. Emma Boon, campaign director of the ignorant numskull right wing pressure group the Taxpayers' Alliance, said: 'The number of people in that six-figure pay bracket has gone up, which is a big disappointment. Licence-fee payers constantly hear the BBC say it wants more money. The BBC should be congratulated for cutting the overall talent bill, but a large amount of that seems to come from a small amount of departures.' And, as this blog always asks whenever anybody quotes someone from this shoddy and agenda-driven organisation who, exactly, are the Taxpayers Alliance and whom do they, exactly, claim to speak for? Because, I'll tell you what, dear blog reader, I'm a tax payer and they do not speak for me. The corporation's report also showed that overheads rose by fifteen million quid in its last financial year, to four hundred and twenty one million, because of spending on the relocation of several thousand staff from London to Salford and the redevelopment of Broadcasting House. In addition, the BBC revealed the number of complaints about its programmes grew by twenty thousand to two hundred and forty thousand. The bulk were triggered by EastEnders' controversial cot death baby storyline, a trailer for Graham Norton's entertainment show Over the Rainbow appearing over the end of Doctor Who - to be fair, yer actual Keith Telly Topping even complained about that one his very self! - and jokes stereotyping Mexicans on Top Gear which got a few Daily Scum Mail and Gruniad readers hot under their jackboots in a - frankly sick - exercise of feigned outraged but, frankly, nobody else cared a stuff about. There was also a big fall in the amount of drama shown on BBC channels over the twelve months to March 2011. Drama output was down by six hundred and thirty hours, mostly due to fewer episodes of US imports Diagnosis Murder and Murder, She Wrote being broadcast during the daytime. Meanwhile, cuts to BBC World Service output resulting from a reduction in its Foreign Office grant are having an impact, with the international broadcaster's audience down by fourteen million, according to the corporation, to one hundred and sixty six million in the year to the end of March. Doctor Who was BBC Worldwide's biggest-selling TV show internationally last year and, along with brands including Top Gear, the international version of Strictly Come Dancing and BBC Earth, helped earn more than three hundred million pounds in revenue. The exploitation of everything from TV programmes to live events, DVDs and magazines for the five BBC power brands raked in £308.1m in revenue for BBC Worldwide, the corporation's commercial arm, in the year to the end of March. This represented a twelve per cent year-on-year revenue increase for the elite group of brands, which will be soon be joined by Walking with Dinosaurs. The top five individual TV series sold internationally by BBC Worldwide in the year to the end of March were Doctor Who series five, the debut series of Sherlock, the fifteenth and sixteenth series of Top Gear and Human Planet. The Doctor Who franchise made the biggest value leap last year with revenue climbing forty nine per cent, thanks to significant growth in the US. BBC Worldwide has seen a forty five per cent increase in DVD and download-to-own sales, with Doctor Who the third-biggest seller in the US iTunes chart behind Mad Men and Glee. Sales also increased in Europe, moving the revenue mix to fifty per cent from outside the UK. In the previous year seventy per cent of revenues had come from sales of Doctor Who DVDs and merchandise in its home market. Overall the top TV brands by revenue – when sales of all series and programme titles are combined, not just for a single series – were Top Gear, Doctor Who and Waking the Dead. BBC Worldwide's Facebook pages for Top Gear and The Stig now have more than eleven million fans, and around twenty five per cent of traffic to topgear.com now comes via Facebook. The BBC Worldwide chief executive, John Smith, said that much of the final negotiations to sell its BBC magazine portfolio, which includes titles such as Top Gear magazine and Radio Times, had centred on protecting its key brand assets.

The Daily Lies has started to focus on the hacking scandal, in its own inimitable style
You couldn't make it up, could you? Well, you could ... and, indeed, they frequently do.

For today's Keith Telly Topping's 45 of the Day we have a proper eighties masterpiece from The Lover Speaks before it got totally shagged up by Annie Lennox covering it.

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