Monday, November 14, 2011

The Sailor Said I'm Going Away To Fight For My Country, I Said You Must Be Some Kind Of Fool

A judge beginning an inquiry into media practices has warned newspapers not to victimise inquiry witnesses who speak out against press intrusion. So, what's the betting that they will anyway? Lord Justice Leveson is looking at the culture, practices and ethics of the press and if its self-regulation works. Which it clearly doesn't. So, therefore, it's time for a bit of tough love from Judge Fudge one hopes. Alleged phone-hacking victims will give evidence to the hearings at the Royal Courts of Justice in London. Lord Justice Leveson said the inquiry would 'monitor' press coverage for any signs of witnesses being 'targeted.' Hearings will later examine the extent of unlawful conduct by the press, and the police's initial - piss-poor - hacking investigation. This second phase will wait until after the current police investigation into Scum of the World phone hacking, and any resultant prosecutions. Taking a page from Juvenal's book (or, maybe he's a comics fan and it was from Alan Moore's instead) 'who guards the guardians?' was the pithy way Lord Justice Leveson summed up the far from amusing task facing this inquiry - which was described at one point as 'a root and branch investigation of the press.' The language has suddenly gone all Old Testament. I like it. The senior judge stressed the importance of newspapers to a democracy. He also issued a blunt warning - that he will be watching to see if any of the 'victims' who give evidence have a rough time in the papers afterwards. Two competing versions of British newspapers were presented in the opening arguments. In one, they were presented as a force for great public good for their ability to hold the powerful to account. In the other, they (particularly the tabloids) use unscrupulous methods and believe themselves to be almost above the law. It will be Lord Justice Leveson's not inconsiderable challenge to decide where the truth lies. Lord Justice Leveson said that 'concerns' had already been raised the press might decide to 'target' those who spoke out against it during the inquiry. 'I have absolutely no wish to stifle freedom of speech and expression, but I anticipate that monitoring will take place of press coverage over the months to come. And if it appears that those concerns are made out, without objective justification, it might be appropriate to draw the conclusion that these vital rights are being abused, which itself would provide evidence of culture, practice and ethics which could be relevant to my ultimate recommendations.' In opening remarks, he reiterated: 'I fully consider freedom of expression and freedom of the press to be fundamental to our democracy. But that freedom must be exercised with the rights of others in mind.' He said that the press provided 'an essential check on all aspects of public life. That is why any failure within the media affects all of us. At the heart of this inquiry therefore may be one simple question - who guards the guardians?' Counsel to the inquiry, Robert Jay QC, has been delivering an opening statement to the court outlining the inquiry's terms of reference and the reasons for its establishment. He warned that the 'extraordinarily powerful and articulate' press would have 'considerable control over the way in which these proceedings are reported, commented on and analysed. The power of the press may be one reason why politicians, at least arguably, have not been overly keen to take steps to call it into question,' he said. He added what could be justified as being 'in the public interest' and how, lay 'at the heart of the hearings.' The inquiry had not yet seen any examples of phone-hacking by media which could 'even start to be justified on public interest grounds,' Jay said. 'A constant theme will be the alleged subterranean influences operated by the press on the democratic process.' The process would not be a complete forensic examination of phone-hacking in light of the police investigation but would endeavour to be as thorough as possible, Jay said. But he added: 'This is not a situation where we can honestly say "no stone will be left unturned," since if we were to adopt that approach, we would still be here in three years' time.' Jay claimed that the inquiry would 'not refrain' from areas which were also the subject of the police's current and ongoing investigation into phone-hacking. 'In general terms what we need to do, in instances where our inquiry does overlap with the police investigation, is to ensure that we adduce an adequate body of evidence, some of it quite general, to enable you to provide a sufficient narrative of relevant culture, practices and ethics,' he said. The first witnesses are not expected to be called until next week. The revelation earlier this year that murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler's phone had been hacked by the Scum of the World prompted Prime Minister David Cameron to run around like a children with its head cut off (as usual) and establish the inquiry, thus making dealing with the situation someone else's problem. The Dowler fiasco also led to the closure of the disgraced and disgraceful tabloid. Those giving evidence will include the parents of the murdered teenager and the parents of Madeleine McCann. Fifty-three alleged victims have now been granted 'core participant' status, meaning they can be represented by a barrister, seek to cross-examine other witnesses and make opening and closing statements during the inquiry. Milly's father and MPs Denis MacShane and Chris Bryant were amongst those attending day one of the hearings. Lord Justice Leveson is expected to report back within a year. The background of an ongoing police inquiry means Leveson's task will not be straightforward. His challenge will be to ensure 'the hearing here doesn't get in the way of the criminal investigation.' Lord Justice Leveson is being advised by a six-member panel consisting of Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti, former Ofcom chairman Lord Currie, former Channel Four News political editor Elinor Goodman, ex-Daily Torygraph political editor George Jones, former Financial Times chairman Sir David Bell and ex-West Midlands police chief constable Sir Paul Scott-Lee. The Sun's associate editor the odious Trevor Kavanagh told Today that he thought there was 'insufficient representation of the tabloid press' on the inquiry panel. Yes. That's because nobody wants anything to do with them. Because you're all scum. 'With such a very large part of the newspaper industry unrepresented, I think there is a risk that it will not look at the whole picture.' Oh, they will, matey . They're going to be looking very closely at you and your paper, for a kick-off.
Robert Jay stated that 'questions must be asked as to how high up in News International the metaphorical buck stops.' He went on to say that evidence is beginning to emerge that phone-hacking was not limited to just News International. The big revelation on the opening day of the inquiry was that the names of twenty eight News International employees appear in notebooks belonging to Glenn Mulcaire, the private investigator who seemingly took such delight in working for the Scum of the World. Leveson's inquiry also heard that Mulcaire wrote the words 'Daily Mirra' in his notepad, which suggests he may have carried out work for that paper. Then again, he might have just been in the middle of writing 'The Daily Mirra is a right load of shite and Piers Morgan is an oily tosser' and got interrupted half way through. Anything's possible. Jay, counsel for the inquiry, told the high court that 'at least' twenty seven other News International employees are named in Mulcaire's paperwork, as well as former Scum of the World royal editor Clive Goodman, who was jailed for phone-hacking along with the private investigator in January 2007. Jay also said: 'The inquiry is beginning to receive evidence to indicate that phone-hacking was not limited to that organisation [News International].' He claimed that the number of News International names and the scale of the activity indicated there was 'a culture of phone-hacking' at the company. 'Either management knew what was going on at the time and therefore, at the very least, condoned this illegal activity,' he said, or there was 'a failure of supervision and oversight.' Either way that looks to be jolly bad news for former Scum of the World editors the primer minister's chum Andy Coulson and well-known Crystal Tipps lookalike Rebekah Brooks. According to figures read out by Jay to an astonished public gallery, Mulcaire received a total of two thousand two hundred and sixty six 'requests' from News International journalists, Jay said, two thousand one hundred and forty two of which were made by four unnamed reporters. The most prolific individual of these four made one thousand four hundred and fifty three of those requests. A total of sixty hundred and ninety audio tapes were also recovered from Mulcaire's office, Jay revealed, and there was a record of five hundred and eighty six recordings of voicemail messages intended for sixty four individuals. The evidence was seized by Metropolitan police officers during a raid in 2006. Mulcaire's eleven thousand pages of notes mentioned five thousand seven hundred and ninety five individual names, he confirmed, all of whom could be potential phone-hacking victims. Jay also said the inquiry had seen documents which suggest that Mulcaire was hacking into phone messages as early as May 2001. It had been assumed, until today, that the earliest phone-hacking by Mulcaire occurred sometime in 2002. The new date is potentially highly significant because it falls before the 9/11 terrorist attacks in America. Several - still unsubstantiated - allegations have been made that News International instructed private investigators in the US to target relatives of the victims of the 9/11 attacks, although no proof has so far emerged that this actually took place. The Sun is also named in Mulcaire's notes, Jay said. Jude Law had cited the Sun along with its former sister paper the Scum of the World in his civil case against News International, although the Sun has since been dropped from his claim. Several public figures are believed to be preparing civil cases against the Daily Mirra, but none have so far come to court. The paper's publisher, Trinity Mirra, continues to insist that its journalist operate within the law and follow the Press Complaints Commission's code of conduct. Which, of course, dear blog readers may recall is pretty much exactly what News International claimed, publicly and often, from the day Clive Goodman was arrested in 2007 right up until January of this year when it suddenly changed its collective tune. A Trinity Mirra spokesman said the company has 'no knowledge of ever using Glenn Mulcaire.' Jay said that the Mulcaire notes showed a 'thriving cottage industry' and that the 'scale of activity gives rise to the powerful inference that it must have occupied Mulcaire full-time.'

Labour MP Tom Watson (power to the people!) has pulled out of this week's Society of Editors conference over fresh claims that MPs on the Commons select committee investigating phone-hacking were 'targeted' by private investigators working for News International. Watson said that he was withdrawing from the annual conference to seek 'legal and constitutional advice' over the alleged surveillance. Watson claimed the surveillance took place six months ago, but the Gruniad Morning Star says that it 'understands' it took place in mid-2009. Watson made the comment in a letter to the SoE published in a blogpost on Monday. He said: 'Under the circumstances, I have to spend the day seeking advice from the Speaker and discussing the matter with fellow members of the DCMS select committee as to our legal and constitutional position.' Watson's claim marks the second occasion on which he believes he was targeted by private investigators working for News International. Tory MP Louise Bagashite Mensch claimed during James Murdoch's appearance before the committee last week that private investigators had tailed members of the select committee, including Watson, and 'all members' of the original select committee inquiry into phone-hacking in 2009. The surveillance in mid-2009 is alleged to have been carried out for between three and ten days, before it was abandoned after a number of News International staff protested at the huge resource it required. Watson told Murdoch last week that officers from Operation Tuleta, the Metropolitan police investigation into claims of computer hacking at the Scum of the World, contacted him earlier this month to say that his name appears on 'seized electronic devices.' Murdoch told MPs that he was aware of the surveillance of Watson, a long-time and tenacious critic of News International over phone-hacking, but not about the Operation Tuleta claim. 'I am aware of the case of the surveillance of Mr Watson; again, under the circumstances, I apologise unreservedly for that,' he told MPs. 'It is not something that I would condone, it is not something that I had knowledge of and it is not something that has a place in the way we operate. I think it is important to note that certain surveillance of prominent figures in investigative journalism and things like that is acceptable but, in this case, that is absolutely not acceptable. You have my unequivocal statement to that effect and my apology on behalf of the company – even though I did not condone it, would not condone it and don't agree with it.'

ITV's strategy of populating I'm A Z-List Former Celebrity Desperate To Get My Boat-Race Back On TV ... Please Vote For Me To Stay Here As Long As Possible (I'll Even Eat Worms If You Want) with a number of older than usual contestants appears to have paid dividends on Sunday night, with more than eleven million viewers tuning in – the show's best ever opening night audience. This year's eleventh series includes a string of nostalgia-figures – Willie Carson, Stefanie Powers, Lorraine Chase and Freddie Starr are all in their sixties. The show averaged 11.5 million viewers across ITV and ITVHD from 9pm, pipping last year's audience of 11.2 million for the opening episode. When figures for those who caught it on ITV+1 are included the audience for the show, which also features The Only Way is Essex's Mark Wright, hit 11.8 million. BBC1's returning drama Garrow's Law drew 4.9 million viewers in the 9pm slot, up against ITV's reality TV juggernaut. Personally, yer actual Keith Telly Topping wasn't watching either of those (although I will probably catch Garrow's Law on iPlayer). Rather he was knee deep in the middle of the second part of George Harrison: Living In The Material World at the time. And, it ended with 'Long, Long, Long'. Scorsese, you da man. Earlier, Strictly Come Dancing had attracted 10.7 million viewers and a forty per cent audience share in the 8pm slot, as former boxer Audley Harrison became the latest celebrity to leave the show. Harrison reportedly believes that 'Strictly will revitalise my boxing career.' What boxing career's that then? Over on ITV The X Factor results show managed to pull in the third ten million-plus audience of the night, with an average of 12.5 million tuning in to see Kitty Brucknell voted off the talent contest. The show, which saw Amelia Lily give her first performance after replacing the ousted Frankie Cocozza following a public vote, managed a forty one per cent share. BBC1's coverage of the penultimate race of the Formula One season in Abu Dhabi, won by Lewis Hamilton, averaged 4.6 million viewers and a forty per cent share between 12.15pm and 3.10pm.

And, speaking of ratings (this time, consolidated ones) here's the Top Twenty shows week ending Sunday 6 November:
1 The X Factor - ITV Sun - 11.58m
2 Downton Abbey - ITV Sun - 11.25m
3 Strictly Come Dancing - BBC Sun - 11.11m
4 Frozen Planet - BBC1 Wed - 9.72m
5 Doc Martin - ITV Mon - 9.56m
6 Coronation Street - ITV Mon - 9.24m
7 EastEnders - BBC1 Thurs - 9.22m
8 Countryfile - BBC1 Sun - 7.75m
9 Emmerdale - ITV Tues - 7.17m
10 Merlin - BBC1 Sun - 6.94m
11 Antiques Roadshow - BBC1 Sun - 6.57m
12 Death In Paradise - BBC1 Tues - 6.48m
13 Six O'Clock News - BBC1 Sun - 5.78m
14 Holby City - BBC1 Tues - 5.70m
15 Ten O'Clock News - BBC1 Wed - 5.69m
16 Susan Boyle: An Unlikely Superstar - ITV Fri - 5.67m
17 Waterloo Road - BBC1 Wed - 5.50m
18 Have I Got News For You - BBC1 Fri - 5.14m
19 Casualty - BBC1 Sat - 5.03m
20 Young Apprentice - BBC1 Mon - 4.76m
So there's a little figure to, somewhat, make yer heart sing dear blog reader; not only did Frozen Planet get more viewers than any episode of Coronation Street or EastEnders last week, it also got more than the Saturday night X Factor as well! Sort of restores a tiny bit of your shattered faith in the general public, doesn't it? BBC2's two biggest rated shows, as usual, were University Challenge (3.07m) and Qi (2.93m). Channel Four's big hitter, again as usual, was Grand Designs (3.16m).

ITV has recommissioned Poirot for a final series of feature-length films. The five new Agatha Christie adaptations will include Labours of Hercules, Dead Man's Folly, The Big Four, Elephants Can Remember and the Belgian detective's final case Curtain. David Suchet will reprise the title role, having first played the character in 1989. The actor previously expressed his desire to film the entire Poirot canon. 'I'm more than delighted to be reprising my role as Poirot,' he confirmed. 'It's been my life's ambition to bring this amazing canon of works to completion on ITV.' ITV's director of drama commissioning Laura Mackie added: 'Poirot is without doubt one of fiction's finest detectives and we're thrilled to welcome him back to ITV with his refined approach to crime-fighting. We're equally delighted that David has agreed to play him in the final Poirot films for the ITV audience and immensely privileged to be producing Curtain.' ITV has also announced that Poirot's companion piece Marple will return in a new series of three films. Julia McKenzie will reprise the title role in adaptations of Agatha Christie's A Caribbean Mystery, Endless Night and The Seven Dials Mystery. The first story will begin filming in the summer of 2012, while the latter two will enter production in the autumn. 'It's a huge privilege for me to play Miss Marple,' said McKenzie. 'I love her shrewd intelligence, and yet she has a warmth and a sweetness that is so disarming. I find it stimulating watching how her insights into human nature can unlock big complex mysteries. I'm delighted to be back.' ITV's director of drama commissioning Laura Mackie added: 'We love revisiting Marple because we know how much the ITV audience appreciate a good murder mystery. It's great news that Julia is to reprise a role she's very much made her own. With Julia at the helm, we know we'll attract another stellar cast to appear alongside her.'

The creator of MasterChef and Auf Weidersehen, Pet has criticised modern reality TV shows for 'humiliating and degrading' contestants. Franc Roddam, who also directed the classic movie Quadrophenia before creating the cooking show format in 1990, told the Digital Spy website that he is still 'peripherally involved' with the show since its 2001 revamp. 'MasterChef was the first reality show,' Roddam said. 'You know how many years ago it was? Twenty five years. We made a rule. We would never criticise the people, we would only criticise the food. There's no brutality in it. I'm very proud of it, and it's all over the world. It's done well.' Asked if other modern reality shows are instead based too much around criticising the participants, he added: 'They are. For me they are. They're all about humiliation. Humiliation and degradation. I can't stand them, I really can't. It's gladiatorial, whereas what we're saying [with MasterChef] is that it's really about skill and talent and desire and 'We'll hope you do it'.' Roddam also described the Australian version of MasterChef as 'the best thing in the world.'

Inside Out presenter Matthew Wright has described the proposed forty per cent cuts to the BBC1 regional programme 'a joke' and says that he may quit the current affairs series if they go ahead. Wright – who fronts the London version of Inside Out as well as Channel Five's The Wright Stuff – said that the budget cuts the BBC show is facing as part of the corporation's Delivering Quality First cost-saving measures, mark 'the beginning of the end for regional broadcasting on the BBC.' Yeah. The kid's got a point. He also questioned why director general Mark Thompson had allowed the BBC to agree such a big cut, saying: 'If a future government asks to save more then we could be asked to take out another twenty per cent, you bearded muppet!' I think he was calling Mark Thompson the 'breaded muppet' there rather than whoever he was speaking to when he said all this. Although the BBC is looking to make twenty per cent cuts over the four years to April 2017 as a result of last year's licence fee settlement which froze its funding, Inside Out is facing a forty per cent cut to its five million quid annual budget. The move is expected to lead to forty job losses across the country and the existing eleven regional editions of the show being reduced to six. Wright said that he wanted to 'make a stand for regional broadcasting,' because it is 'the poor relation' and 'therefore it's easy to get at.' He went on: 'The BBC is the last bastion. It has a public service broadcasting remit and I think regional broadcasting has core Reithian values. It serves communities. I'm on the coal face as I make the programme but most viewers have no idea what's around the corner for their regional programmes. I have yet to find anybody who can explain why the BBC is making forty per cent cuts to Inside Out. The most Mark Thompson was asked to deliver was around twenty per cent. No one wilfully in the modern age gives up twice as much savings as they've been asked to.' Testify, brother Wrighty! When she spoke to Inside Out staff recently, BBC News director Helen Boaden said the priority in regional television had to be the 6.30pm and 10.30pm bulletins, so she 'reluctantly' looked for greater savings from Inside Out. However, Wright said that 'the tragedy is there seems to be no reason for the BBC to do this. On the day I was hearing messages that forty per cent cuts were coming to Inside Out I read in the papers that the BBC was in talks with Kylie Minogue to do The Voice, with a salary not unadjacent to one million pounds,' he added. 'The BBC is not supposed to be competing commercially yet it's pretty clear that big money negotiations are going on still. A fraction of that wage would keep on running some regional programmes for a year.' He added: 'The problem is that regional programming isn't very sexy. When 6Music was under threat people, quite rightly, rushed to defend it. David Bowie made a song and dance about it and Ed Vaizey thought it was worth saving.' The first episode of the latest series of Inside Out was watched by 3.6 million viewers overall, more than the 3.4 million who watched Panorama that week, for instance. Wright said that if the changes and cuts go ahead, there will be 'little point me being involved in the show. I'll have to ask myself do I want to be standing in a field in Kent, is it what I signed up to do. I'm a Londoner and I wanted to make programmes about London.' Wright argued that viewers do not want news from other areas: 'People from London want to watch shows about their region. Do I want to know what's going on in Kent or Sussex and vice versa? No one knows how this will operate. Are they going to have a London and south region? They can say that's a region but the function of regional broadcasting is to be about stories in people's region. The geography will be too wide. Why not just have north, middle and south? It's still regional broadcasting but compared with what we have at the moment it is a joke.' Wright's words echoed those of former BBC director general Greg Dyke, who pointed out recently at a speech at the University of West London that it was 'only in recent years that the BBC abandoned a local regional news magazine show called London Plus, which covered the whole of London, all of Kent and half of the south-east. I think it was Michael Grade who nicknamed London Plus 'Fuck Off Kent'.' The BBC Trust is currently running a DQF consultation which closes at the end of the year. If you have any comments to make on it, then here's where you can do so.

One of Scotland's top actors, Brian Cox, and 'a well known Scottish comedian', Billy Connolly, will star in a Christmas Day radio drama. The pair will play brothers who join forces in a journey across Scotland to trace a childhood sweetheart. The drama, The Quest of Donal Q by Scots writer David Ashton, is loosely based on the classic Cervantes tale Don Quixote. It will be broadcast on BBC Radio Scotland on 25 December and repeated on BBC Radio 4 in the new year. Connolly will play Donal while Cox will star as Sandy, brothers who were separated as children in an orphanage. Donal is adopted by a rich couple and brought up in California; Sandy remains in Dundee. Ten years after falling out in a fierce row, Donal returns to ask his brother for help tracing Jeanette, a fellow orphan they both loved, now said to be in dire straits and in need of 'a knight in shining armour.' Head of BBC Radio Scotland Jeff Zycinski said it was 'fantastic news' to have two of the biggest stars in Scotland coming together. 'This is a lovely Christmas gift for our BBC Radio Scotland audience to enjoy as one of the highlights of this year's fantastic festive line-up of programmes,' he said. Next year BBC Scotland's drama department will deliver about sixty five hours of commissions to Radio 4, Radio 3 and Radio 4 Extra as well as BBC Radio Scotland. Highlights include a Victorian detective drama, McLevy, starring Brian Cox and Siobhan Redmond. Also planned are productions of two classic American novels, John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath and F Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby.

ITV performed strongly in the autumn thanks to the Rugby World Cup and shows such as The X Factor, but a tough Christmas will see TV advertising revenues decline year-on-year in the fourth quarter and into 2012. ITV, reporting results for the first nine months of the year, said that revenue was up one per cent in the third quarter. ITV's family of channels – comprising ITV, 2, 3 and 4 – reported TV advertising revenue up two per cent in July, down three per cent in August and up seven per cent in September when The X Factor and Downton Abbey started. The broadcaster said that this was ahead of is own expectations and also ahead of the TV advertising market. However, the picture for the final quarter of the year is less rosy with ITV's total advertising revenue expected to be down two per cent. Adam Crozier, the ITV chief executive, all but said that advertising revenues will continue to spiral downward year-on-year in the first quarter of 2012. He said that quarterly revenue trends are likely to follow a different pattern to 2011 – which saw growth in the first quarter before tapering off – with tough comparatives continuing into the first quarter before easing from the second quarter onwards, helped by the Euro 2012 football championship.

ITN has appointed former CNN and ITV News editorial executive Geoff Hill as the new editor of Five News, as part of the firm's deal to provide news for the broadcaster. In early 2012, ITN will take over the contract to provide all news content for Richard Desmond's Channel Five, after Sky News agreed to terminate its previous deal almost a year early. The move marks a change in strategy for Channel Five's news output and programming, resulting - long overdue - in the axe of teatime entertainment news programme OK! TV. Hill, currently CNN International's director of coverage and formerly ITV News programme editor, will become the new editor of Five News, following David Kermode's announcement in September that he will join ITV's struggling breakfast flop Daybreak programme by the end of the year. ITN said that Hill 'will lead all editorial and management decisions to evolve Five News,' as well as help ensure a 'seamless transition' from the Sky operation. He will report directly to ITN chief executive John Hardie. Hill has vast experience in broadcast news, most recently leading content across CNN's international network, including coverage of the royal wedding and Amanda Knox trial in Italy. He worked for ITN for a decade from 2000 to 2009, rising to programme editor of ITV News, responsible for the flagship News at Ten. He also helped launch the twenty four-hour sports news channel Setanta Sports News as editor-in-chief. 'I have had an amazing experience with CNN but the prospect of returning to ITN as editor of Five News is an incredibly exciting challenge,' said Hill. 'ITN is the UK's leading commercial news provider and Channel Five has a growing reputation as well as ambitious plans. I am thrilled to be a part of this new service from the outset.' Hardie said: 'I know Geoff well from his time at ITN where he led a Setanta Sports News team that punched well above its weight. He is a first rate journalist and manager who will lead the transition of Five News to its new home and work with the talented team to develop its output. Viewers can expect distinctive and quality programmes with Geoff at the helm.' Channel Five director of programming Jeff Ford added: 'To have someone of Geoff's experience and calibre heading up our news programming operation through ITN is another significant step forward for Channel Five's public service news output. We're extremely pleased that the team is now complete and ready to start when contracts commence early next year and know that the collective experience, ambition and hunger for success will no doubt result in great programming output for our viewers.'

Chesney Hawkes - he is the one and only, thankfully - has been tipped to join next year's Twatting About On Ice. The one hit wonder is 'secretly in training' for the ITV contest's seventh series, according to the Sun. So, it's not really a secret now, is it? This, dear blog reader, apparently constitutes 'news' these days. Hawkes is expected to join the likes of former child star Corey Feldman, Sugababes singer Heidi Range and actress Jennifer Ellison in the forthcoming edition. Hollyoaks actress Jorgie Porter, Coronation Street's Andy Whyment and Laila Morse of EastEnders have also been linked to the show. Keith Chegwin was reportedly forced to pull out of Dancing On Ice after injuring himself in training.

The Conservative MP Patrick Mercer has refused to discuss claims he called David Cameron a 'despicable creature without any redeeming features.' Several newspapers have reported that the former Army officer made a series of disparaging remarks about the prime minister during 'a private function.' Obviously not so private that somebody snitched him up like a Copper's Nark it would seem. He, allegedly, predicted the PM would be ousted in a backbench coup next spring. But, when asked about the reports on BBC Radio 5Live, Mercer blustered: 'I am not going to discuss it.' The MP for Newark, the son of a former bishop of Exeter, was forced to resign as Cameron's shadow homeland security spokesman in 2007 after making comments about race in the Army which his party leader called 'unacceptable.' (Mercer claimed during an interview with The Times that he had met 'a lot' of 'idle and useless' ethnic minority soldiers who 'used racism' as a 'cover.' He also stated that a solider from an ethnic minority being called 'a black bastard' by his fellow soldiers was 'a normal part of Army life.') The Sunday People and Sunday Mirra both carried reports about comments allegedly made by Mercer at the 'private function.' He was said to have told a fellow guest that he would 'rather take a beggar off the street' and put them in Downing Street than have Cameron there. He also reportedly described his party leader as 'an arse' and 'the worst politician in British history since William Gladstone.' Sounds a thoroughly reasonable position to hold, to me but, you know, I can see why a few Tories might have somewhat got the hump over it. Asked about a possible backbench uprising against Cameron, Mercer is alleged to have said: 'He'll go in the spring. He'll resign in the spring.' During an interview on the BBC's Pienaar's Politics programme, Mercer repeatedly refused to be drawn on the claims. He has acknowledged having 'a conversation with a number of people' at the event, but said that the recordings had been obtained by 'subterfuge.' So, in other words, he's been caught talking out of turn by a sneak and he's now trying to weasel his way out of it by blaming the sneak. That's a definite case of 'shoot the messenger' if ever there was one. Mercer denied that the recordings backed up the claims he had insulted Cameron and said that he was 'consulting with his lawyers.' Over what, exactly, is unclear since, to the best of my knowledge it's not illegal to record somebody making their mouth go in a stupid fashion. Perhaps some lawyer out there would like to convince me otherwise. The Conservative Party said that it had no comment to make, but added that such remarks 'did not necessarily merit disciplinary action.' So, that very much is a comment, one might suggest. There was a deafening silence from Downing Street, however. Mercer, who served with the Army in Northern Ireland and Bosnia, is a known critic of Cameron and was among backbenchers who rebelled last month over a referendum on European Union membership. After leaving Cameron's shadow cabinet in 2007, he went on to serve as an adviser to Labour security minister Lord West.

A senior figure in Barack Obama's administration has insisted that there is 'no credible evidence' that aliens are on Earth. Space policy official Phil Larson dismissed conspiracy theories about extraterrestrial life after two petitions for information reached the White House. 'The US government has no evidence that any life exists outside our planet,' Sky News quotes him as saying. 'Or that an extraterrestrial presence has contacted or engaged any member of the human race. In addition, there is no credible information to suggest that any evidence is being hidden from the public's eye.' Although Larson conceded that 'odds are pretty high' of there being life elsewhere in the universe, he added: 'Many have noted that the odds of us making contact with any of them - especially any intelligent ones - are extremely small, given the distances involved.' The statement was issued under a new initiative called We the People, which promises a government response to petitions with a significant backing. The White House received a total of seventeen thousand signatures regarding extraterrestrial beings.

For the latest Keith Telly Topping's 45 of the Day, have some balls, dear blog reader.

No comments: