Thursday, December 08, 2011

The Twenty Two Days Of Christmas: Sing, Sisters, Sing!

And so we reach that wonderful, inevitable, point in the Scum of the World phone-hacking malarkey where all of the rats start leaving a sinking ship whilst turning on each other at the same time. As entertainment goes, it's quite sight. The Scum of the World's former chief reporter has provided written evidence to MPs accusing executives on the paper of 'withholding information' about the extent of bad and naughty phone-hacking at the disgraced and disgraceful title from a parliamentary committee and other senior News International managers, including James Murdoch. Neville Thurlbeck claimed that Colin Myler, the former Scum of the World editor, and Tom Crone, the former head of legal at the newspaper, had left him 'to dangle as a suspect for the next two years' after he first told them in July 2009 that he had 'final proof' that phone-hacking at the paper went beyond a single 'rogue reporter' as various News International figures had repeatedly claimed for over four years. The phone-hacking scandal eventually led to the decision by the paper's owners News International to close the title in July of this year. News International had previously insisted that phone-hacking had only been carried out by royal correspondent Clive Goodman, who commissioned the private detective Glenn Mulcaire to hack into voicemail messages. In 2006, they were both found extremely guilty of phone-hacking and were jailed the following year. Thurlbeck said that his name first became publicly linked to allegations of phone-hacking in July 2009 in relation to a News International settlement with PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor. Taylor was paid four hundred and twenty five thousand smackers in damages over the interception of voicemail messages. In a letter to the Commons select committee chairman, John Whittingdale, which was published online late on Wednesday night, Thurlbeck wrote: 'In my intimate experience of the fall-out from the phone-hacking scandal, there has been a pattern of News of the World executives withholding information from News International executives and to the [culture, media and sport committee].' He also wrote that because of what he claimed was a 'backdrop of persistent non-disclosure,' he 'cannot believe' allegations by Myler and Crone that they told Murdoch in 2008 that phone-hacking at the Scum of the World went beyond a single reporter. Murdoch – the News Corporation deputy chief operating officer and News International chairman – denies that he was told this. Thurlbeck said he could not believe that if Murdoch had been told that there was evidence of more widespread phone-hacking he would not have taken further action to find out what had been going on at the Scum of the World after deciding to pay Taylor damages – a settlement which rose to more than seven hundred grand including legal costs – in 2008. 'It is inconceivable to me that upon deciding to pay record damages for invasion of privacy based upon telephone hacking that he would not have discussed the implications for the company and shareholders with other members of the board, who would in turn have advised holding an internal inquiry. They didn't,' he wrote. Thurlbeck was arrested and bailed in April of this year for alleged phone-hacking, and was sacked by News International in the summer. He denies hacking into phones. In another letter to the culture select committee published late on Wednesday, Crone insisted that he had conveyed to Murdoch the damning legal opinion from the company's own barrister of 'overwhelming evidence' that there was 'a culture of illegal information access' in the newsroom. He claims that he provided Myler with a copy of the written opinion by Michael Silverleaf, QC on 3 June 2008, and that this was duly reported to Murdoch at another meeting on 10 June. He admits that he 'cannot remember' whether he 'handed a copy of counsel's opinion' or whether he and Myler 'simply briefed him.' But, he continued: 'I certainly went to the meeting with a spare copy of the written opinion for Mr Murdoch and would have offered it to him. If he was not given the copy it was because he asked to be briefed rather than reading it himself.' Myler also stands by his previous claims that he and Crone did brief Murdoch about external legal advice to settle with Taylor. 'I do not know whether Mr Murdoch was given a copy of Mr Silverleaf's opinion. I did not give him a copy. However, Mr Crone and I briefed Mr Murdoch at the meeting on 10 June 2008 that Counsel's advice was to settle Mr Taylor's claim,' he wrote to the culture select committee. Myler says he did not read a copy of the Silverleaf opinion but was 'briefed' on the substance of the advice which was to 'settle Mr Taylor's claim.' Thurlbeck claims that a taped phone conversation – with the Scum of the World journalist alleged to have made the transcript of the Taylor voicemail messages in the 'for Neville' e-mail – exonerates him, personally.

Meanwhile, Glenn Mulcaire, the private investigator jailed for phone-hacking on behalf of the Scum of the World, has been arrested again by police, according to Sky News. And, let's face it, they'd know. 'Sources' have told Sky that Mulcaire was the forty one-year-old chap arrested on Wednesday morning by officers working on the Operation Weeting probe. Police had said that the unnamed man was detained at 7am on suspicion of phone-hacking and perverting the course of justice, and taken to South London police station. Mulcaire is the eighteenth arrest in Scotland Yard's Operation Weeting investigation into phone-hacking this year, including former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks and ex-Downing Street communications chief Andy Coulson. The private investigator, who was jailed in 2007 alongside the Scum of the World royal editor Clive Goodman, was said to have been contracted by the Sunday tabloid for 'research assignments' from late 2001. This included hacking the phones of various high-profile individuals on behalf of the now defunct Sunday tabloid. Last month, Mulcaire appeared in the high court in an attempt to secure protection from facing more civil proceedings against himself. He is appealing against a court ruling that he cannot rely on privilege against self-incrimination, meaning he does not have the power to refuse to answer questions put in civil cases brought against him, or News international, the former publisher of the Scum of the World.

On a somewhat related theme, James Murdoch's lawyers have confirmed that the Labour MP Tom Watson (power to the people!) was put under surveillance for a week in 2009, in a letter sent to Parliament. Three News International employees were involved in setting up the monitoring of Watson, an outspoken critic of the company, the letter to MPs on the culture, media and sport select committee published on Wednesday added. Linkaters, the lawyers for Murdoch and News Corporation, added that 'we do not think it appropriate to name names' and said they had discussed this with the Metropolitan police who 'share this view.' Responding on behalf of James Murdoch, the law firm also said it is 'involved in an ongoing internal inquiry' as to how a private detective was hired to follow Watson and document his movements. However, Linklaters, who act for Murdoch and News Corporation, has been able to confirm that Derek Webb, a private investigator, was hired to tail Watson between Monday 28 September 2009 and Friday 2 October 2009. The law firm's letter adds that there is 'no evidence' that any other MPs on the culture, media and sport select committee were put under surveillance. The affair is being investigated by News Corporation's management and standards committee, following allegations that investigators had targeted all the members of the select committee who took part in the inquiry into phone-hacking that year. 'The MSC has seen no information yet to suggest that any other member of the committee (or their family or friends) was under surveillance,' Linklaters wrote. Last month MP Louise Mensch, a Conservative committee member, called on News International to make 'full disclosure' following claims that the entire committee had been followed. 'The committee will want to know if the same person who ordered the surveillance of the lawyers is the same person who allegedly ordered it on select committee members,' Mensch said. The Linklaters letter also provides fresh detail on the close relationship between the Murdoch publishing empire and PR veteran Max Clifford. It discloses that the former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks 'reached ageement' with him to 'provide stories' for a retainer of two hundred thousand smackers a year. There was no written agreement for this arrangement. The arrangement was negotiated in February 2010 and contract Clifford to 'help with stories and would be paid a retainer of two hundred thousand pounds per annum for two years.' Webb, a former police officer, claimed last month that the Scum of the World paid him to target more than ninety individuals, including Prince William, former attorney general Lord Goldsmith and Harry Potter actor Daniel Radcliffe's parents, over an eight years period which only ended this July. He also claims that he was instructed to tail two of the solicitors acting for phone-hacking victims as part of an alleged plot by News International to prove professional misconduct and force them off their legal cases. One of those lawyers, Mark Lewis, represents some of the most high profile victims including Milly Dowler's family and last week told the Leveson inquiry that News International had 'sought to destroy' him.

Andy Coulson has taken the Scum of the World publisher News Group Newspapers to the high court in an attempt to force the company to continue paying his legal fees relating to the phone-hacking affair. Coulson is suing News International subsidiary News Group Newspapers over the construction of a clause within the severance agreement entered into when he resigned as Scum of the World editor in January 2007. His counsel, James Laddie, told Mr Justice Supperstone at the high court in London on Wednesday that Coulson's contract included an agreement to pay the cost of any 'regulatory, administrative, judicial or quasi-judicial' legal action he might face. 'What the parties were trying to do was cover all bases,' he said. Tom Mockridge, the chief executive of News International, NGN's owner, wrote to Coulson on 23 August to say it would no longer meet the cost of his legal fight. Coulson, who resigned as David Cameron's communications chief at the start of the year, has been questioned by police over phone-hacking and illegal payments to police, Laddie confirmed. 'I should make it clear at this stage that the claimant [Coulson] denies any allegations of wrongdoing,' he said. 'At this stage' is a very interesting legal phrase, don't you think, dear blog reader? Laddie added that NGN's broad position was that, whatever the clause meant, it did not cover criminal allegations. However, he argued that Coulson's contract of employment made it clear News International would pay the legal fees arising from any cases brought against him as a result of his job as editor of the now defunct, disgraced and disgraceful Scum of the World. 'It doesn't matter whether he performs his duties well or badly,' Laddie said. 'There's no need to refer to the duties of the employee at all. He has been questioned about his role in phone-hacking and, as everybody knows, communications were intercepted for the purposes of obtaining material for publication, or for verifying material for publication. The matters about which the claimant has been questioned are matters which fall within the scope of his employment.' Laddie told the high court that any legal action taken against Coulson arising from his role as editor triggered a legal indemnity NI is obliged to meet. 'In any case where legal proceedings are even mooted there is an allegation of unlawful conduct,' he said. If it could be argued that certain categories of offences were not covered by the indemnity, Laddie added, 'the indemnity would be robbed of all effect.' He added that NI had already admitted it is 'vicariously liable' for the actions of Glenn Mulcaire and Clive Goodman, the former private investigator and ex-Scum of the World royal editor, both previously jailed for rotten badness, and that it has paid phone-hacking victims compensation for their crimes. Laddie said: '[Coulson] was not being paid to break the law, of course not. An employee is employed to act lawfully. Of course there's an allegation of wrongdoing but it's obvious it's in both parties' interests to have the claimant have access to good legal advice. Any sins of Mr Coulson might also be visited upon the defendant.' It also emerged during Wednesday's hearing that NI is meeting any costs Coulson might incur arising out of the Leveson inquiry into press standards. Christopher Jeans QC, for News International, said that the clause in Coulson's contract was drafted to protect the former editor from paying legal costs relating to his duties as editor. They included libel actions, appearances before parliamentary select committees or costs arising from being the subject of press complaints, he added. 'We submit that this is a clearly [constructed] clause and on no reading covers personal criminal wrongdoing,' Jeans said. He added that the clause was intended to cover the 'occupational hazards' of being an editor. 'It plainly doesn't include criminal allegations directed against the editor personally.' Jeans said such a clause would compel the company to pay Coulson's legal fees if he had been convicted of expenses fraud or damaging company property. 'Where is the limit?' he asked. 'It can't simply be that the conduct occurred whilst he was editor. It can't be the case that anything in the contract anticipated unlawful payments to police officers or interception of telephone conversations.' Jeans told the high court: 'He, himself, does not [claim] that those things were part of his job. It was no part of his function to do the things of which he is accused. The indemnity only applies to the functions of editor. It was no part of Mr Coulson's functions to make unlawful payments to police officers or to intercept telephone conversations.' Asked by the judge whether News International itself could be liable for Coulson's actions should he be convicted of either crime, Jeans said: 'There has certainly been no allegation against the employer. The editor is not a director of the company.'

Today's issue of the Gruniad Morning Star featured a grand total of no stories about Jeremy Clarkson. I know, I was shocked and stunned as well. Maybe they're all ill, or something?

Wednesday's second MasterChef: The Professionals semi-final was almost as cracking a duel as the first as another of yer actual Keith Telly Topping's favourites, Oli Farrar, just about managed to hold off Big Scary Kim to join Ash in the final. Michel Roux Jnr and Gregg Wallace threw their semi-finalists into the white heat of service at Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles. Working under chef patron, the terrifyingly Scottish Andrew Fairlie, the formidable first winner of the prestigious Roux scholarship, they had to compete in service and reach the exacting standards of two Michelin star cuisine. Neither exactly covered themselves in glory although Kim was probably ahead at that stage. Oli, who'd been nervous and rather disconsolate during service, clawed back some of the ground when they were both asked to recreate one of Fairlie's signature dishes: cured mackerel, crab claw meat on cumin and seaweed paste, with a crab and sea cucumber jelly ballotine. Then, Oli and Kim returned to the studio for one last challenge. In a daunting final test, they delivered a main and dessert inspired by their Michelin experience in just two hours. In the event, Oli just got the nod.

Want to see the greatest ever response to a complaint about a TV show including alleged innuendo, dear blog reader? Here's the divine and minxy Victoria Coren showing us all a thing or two. Ooo, err.

In one of those fact-meets-fiction moments, the BBC have announced that news correspondent Huw Edwards will front the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony, a role he once undertook in the Doctor Who episode Fear Her as far back as 2006. There is, however, no news yet whether on David Tennant will be carrying the torch and lighting the Olympic flame at the stadium.
A giraffe from ITV's hit drama series Wild at Heart has been rescued after falling into a swimming pool on the set. Giraffe Lucy, aged nine - often seen in the hit ITV drama acting Stephen Tompkinson off-screen - broke on to the Leopard's Den set and the crew were forced to launch an all-night rescue operation to save the animal, which included calling the fire brigade, draining the pool and building steps out of sandbags. Producer Adam Friedlander said: 'We are not one hundred per cent sure how she fell into the pool but we think she may have been drinking from it and with her head being too low became disorientated and fell in. The animals on the reserve roam free and we are of course very mindful of their safety and try to interfere with their habitat as little as possible. However, accidents can happen and it appeared Lucy had managed to squeeze through the fence before falling into the pool.' Wild at Heart star Tompkinson added: 'It was such a bizarre sight - as soon I walked round the corner all I could see was this great neck sticking out of the pool! She remained really calm throughout the whole thing and after draining the pool and digging a trench for her to walk up she emerged, albeit awkwardly, out of the pool unharmed.' Lucy is currently fourteen months pregnant with the offspring of late Wild at Heart animal star Hamley, who was tragically killed by lightning last year.

There's a very interesting review of the forthcoming Sherlock episode, A Scandal in Belgravia on the Radio Times website which I draw to your attention, dear blog reader. We can also now confirm that this opening episode of series two will debut on BBC1 on New Years Day at 8:10pm.

Downton Abbey fans will have less of the Lord Snooty Julian Fellowes costume drama to enjoy in the next series, after ITV decided to cut the length of most episodes by fifteen minutes, to an hour. However, ITV has denied that the decision to cut the length of seven of the eight episodes of 2012's third series – the opener will remain a scene-setting ninety minutes – has anything to do with the flood of complaints about too many advert breaks interrupting the recently concluded second run. Viewers of the second series – comprised of opening and closing episodes of ninety minutes, which sandwiched six episodes of seventy five minutes – also complained about the downbeat 'mini-drama' style of insurance company Aviva's sponsorship idents. Cutting back the length of episodes in the third series by fifteen minutes will mean that viewers will get about twenty per cent less Downton Abbey screen time compared with the last series. A spokesman for ITV said that the reduced running time is purely 'an editorial decision', pointing out that the first series of Downton featured five episodes of an hour top and tailed by ninety-minute opening and closing shows. Adam Crozier, the ITV chief executive, said on Wednesday that viewers are used to sitting through four advert breaks in a standard sixty-minute show. He admitted that a 'psychological effect' had played a part in the complaints because viewers are not used to a seventy five-minute show and therefore an extra fifth advertising break. Crozier, speaking at a Broadcasting Press Guild lunch, admitted that the real-life story-style of Aviva's idents 'didn't help us, they didn't quite work' and added to the perception that Downton Abbey was 'overloaded' with adverts.

Matthew Wright has apologised on-air after comments were made regarding a murder in Scotland. The presenter, who fronts Channel Five morning discussion show The Wright Stuff, put on a mock Scottish accent while discussing the first murder investigation on the Western Isles in Scotland in over forty years. References were made to the STV produced detective drama Taggart. You know, 'there's bin a murrrrrrdaaaaar' and all that? On Wednesday morning's show, Wright made an on-air apology regarding his comments during the newspaper discussion on Tuesday's episode. He took a swipe at those petitioning for viewers to complain to broadcasting watchdog Ofcom about the incident, saying they should 'grow up.' Probably applies to you, too, Matthew, one could suggest. The BBC says that it understands the local authority for the Western Isles has made a complaint to Ofcom. Which is fair enough but, you know, don't you guys have more important things to do with your time than to watch crappy daytime TV shows?

The BBC has joined other international broadcasters such as Deutsche Welle and Voice of America in condemning deliberate jamming in countries such as Iran. Ahead of an International Telecommunication Union meeting in Switzerland, the outlets, who are joined in their call for action by Audiovisuel Extérieur de la France and Radio Netherlands Worldwide, are asking national telecommunications authorities to discuss the issue. Meeting in London, the Directors General of the broadcasters issued a statement, noting, 'We have seen an escalation this year in the number of pressure tactics that have been used on the media being accessed by audiences in Iran and other countries.' They also said there had been a rise in the jamming of international satellite programming in Persian and that satellite operators indicated the interference originates in Iran. The five broadcasters suggested the jamming was intended to prevent Iranian audiences from watching foreign broadcasts that their government found objectionable. In November, Pakistani cable TV operators began blocking BBC World, claiming that it was in response to a documentary called Secret Pakistan which was shown by the channel. Other foreign broadcasters were also warned that they could be blocked if they aired 'anti-Pakistan' material. The statement from the BBC and four broadcasters said: 'We call upon the regulatory authorities to take action against those who deliberately cause interference to satellite signals, on the grounds that this is contrary to international conventions for the use of satellites.' It adds: 'We also call upon satellite operators and service providers to recognise the importance of the role they play in ensuring the free flow of information.'

Techno-dance duo Underworld have been appointed music directors for the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics, organisers have announced. Rick Smith and Karl Hyde will work with artistic director Danny Boyle and will be responsible for overseeing the music in the three-hour ceremony on 27 July. Underworld's collaborations with Boyle extend from his 1996 film Trainspotting - in particular the movie's use of their epic 'Born Slippy (Nuxx)' - to his recent staging of Frankenstein. Boyle described the duo's appointment as 'the final piece of the jigsaw. It's a great honour to be asked to do this and one we're taking very seriously,' said Hyde. 'It's certainly not something we'll get the chance to do again.' More than ten thousand people have auditioned to take part in the opening and closing ceremonies for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Earlier this week the government doubled the budget for the Olympic and Paralympic ceremonies to more than eighty million smackers. or, you know, three hospitals. Earlier this year, Karl Hyde spoke to BBC 6Music about Underworld's working relationship with Boyle ahead of Frankenstein's opening at the National Theatre in London. 'We always say yes to Danny because he takes us on journeys that take us to places that we've never been or places that we'd love to go,' he said. 'What's interesting about working with them is how much broader their taste is than you might imagine,' said Boyle this week. 'With Frankenstein we really saw how far we could take a broader approach than we'd used together on the films.' Underworld - described by Olympics organisers as 'British electronic music pioneers' - also provided music for Boyle's films A Life Less Ordinary, The Beach and Sunshine.

Harry Morgan has died, aged ninety six. The veteran actor was perhaps best known for playing Colonel Potter in the long-running US sitcom M*A*S*H*. His son Charles confirmed that Morgan died at his home in Los Angeles earlier in the week. Morgan was a prolific character actor who appeared in over one hundred movies, including High Noon, Inherit the Wind, How the West Was Won, the Elvis movie Frankie & Johnny, The Shootist and the 1987 Dragnet remake with Tom Hanks. He often played loyal sidekicks, sheriffs, Western baddies, police chiefs and judges in his many roles. Morgan was also known for portraying officer Bill Gannon in the 1967 update of Dragnet, Pete Porter in the sitcom Pete and Gladys and Amos Coogan in Hec Ramsey. He won an Emmy Award in 1980 for his role as Potter in M*A*S*H*. More recently he appeared in television shows including 3rd Rock from the Sun and Murder, She Wrote. His son said: 'My dad would read a script the way somebody else would read Time magazine and put it down and be on the set the next day. Appearing on a talk show to focus on himself because he was Harry Morgan was not nearly as natural as appearing in a role as Pete Porter or Bill Gannon or Colonel Potter, or as the cowboy drifter who wandered into town with Henry Fonda and got wrapped up in a vigilante brigade in The Ox-Bow Incident.'

And now something very worrying for anybody who has ever written anything on the Internet. A blogger in the US state of Oregon has just been ordered by a court to pay two and a half million dollars to an investment company because of an allegedly defamatory posting. Crystal Cox was sued by the investment firm Obsidian Finance Group for writing several blog posts which were 'highly critical' of the firm and its co-founder, Kevin Padrick. She argued in Portland district court that she should have the same legal protection that is afforded to journalists. She said her posts - a mixture of facts, commentary and opinion - were 'based on material supplied by a whistle-blower' whose identity she refused to reveal. She considered herself to be a journalist and should therefore be entitled to protection under media shield laws which allow journalists not to identify their sources. But Oregon's shield law does not explicitly include bloggers in its list. The judge's opinion is fascinating - and truly alarming - because it suggests that, at least in certain states of the US, there is one law for journalists and another for ordinary citizens. He said: 'Although [the] defendant is a self-proclaimed "investigative blogger" and defines herself as "media," the record fails to show that she is affiliated with any newspaper, magazine, periodical, book, pamphlet, news service, wire service, news or feature syndicate, broadcast station or network, or cable television system. Thus, she is not entitled to the protections of the law.' It appears as though it is going to require a supreme court hearing at some stage to sort this one out. Cox, who runs several sites, including one called obsidianfinancesucks.com, plans to appeal, saying: 'This should matter to everyone who writes on the Internet.' Though Obsidian sued over several postings, the judge found against Cox on only one item, ruling that it was defamatory precisely because it was more factual in tone than her other, opinion-based, posts.

And so we come to day three of yer actual Keith Telly Topping's Twenty Two Days of Christmas - still a guaranteed Greg Lake-free zone. And this time around we have a quite magnificent slice of yer actual deep fried Southern Soul from The Staple Sisters. Sing, sisters, sing!
A song that was used particularly effectively in an episode of House three or four years ago, as it happens, to maintain a vague sort of link to yer actual From The North's other sphere of influence.

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