Mike's Media Monitor

By The Drum, Administrator

April 21, 2005 | 6 min read

On Sunday, James Cox was beaten up. This isn’t a crime report on the ex-Daily Record hack who now presents BBC Radio Four’s The World This Weekend, but you might want to send flowers of sympathy anyway. He was left black and blue by the Deputy Prime Minister, the man who once threw a punch at a voter. But this time, John Prescott needed nothing more than a jocular tone and withering put-down to leave Cox on the canvas.

In any election, there are the main parties running for votes, and the BBC running for kudos, which will have taken a knock, all those weeks ago, when Kirsty Wark was dropped from the election-night roster – a victim of her friendship with First Minister, Jack McConnell.

The Herald’s Ian Bell has pointed out that Jeremy Paxman’s increasingly one-note performance of sneering at his interviewees results in less and less useful material. It is fine as a bit of pantomime, but Paxman fancies himself as bit more highbrow than Widow Twanky.

What has damaged the corporation’s reputation is that so few of its interviews has made any impact at all. Paxman’s Newsnight style may partly be to blame, another culprit maybe Radio Five Live.

The fifth BBC radio station is magnificent in many ways. It has had a lasting impact on all broadcasting. What R5 did was replace the idea of the omniscient BBC presenter with a blokey, more friendly figure who openly admits to areas of ignorance. The mouth behind the microphone on R5 is the girl or guy next door, with a reasonable intelligence and a curious attitude.

This has refreshed broadcasting style throughout the country, but it has its downsides. If BBC Radio Scotland is now modelling itself on R5 rather than R4, that can be no bad thing – too often its presenters have been too defensive about their knowledge and programmes have been, as a consequence, hamstrung by a refusal to appear weak. But gone is the spiky intelligence of Lesley Riddoch, Colin Bell or Brian Morton and, in its place, more cuddly, non-threatening voices.

While this may be more inclusive, it raises the anxiety whether there is a killer punch in the armoury at all, far be it at the ready on the few occasions when it requires to be deployed.

“Oh, come of it”, or some-such cynical/sceptical tone, does not broadcast a sense of greater wisdom than the interviewee, it too often sounds like a badly-briefed hack bluffing through. More damagingly, it makes the presenter sound like just another politician, with an opinion to peddle but too little substance to back it up. Beware the fate of Cox; when John Prescott is more fluent than you, it’s maybe time to rethink your manifesto.

Fears must be mounting for the Scottish Standard, the pro-independence weekly tabloid newspaper launched last month, which has already had to cut staff, its most high-profile casualty being business editor, Nick Bibby, who was made redundant on Tuesday.

Others thought to have left the newspaper's Paisley base include an editorial assistant, a receptionist, a designer and three administrative staff.

Launched on 9 March, the paper is published by Belfast-based Flagship Media Group. The first issue is understood to have sold 11,800 copies with subsequent issues faring little better, if not worse. At £60 per year for a subscription - despite the cover price being 70p - it is believed that only 36 subscriptions have been sold.

Yesterday saw the three trade unions representing members of staff at the BBC – National Union of Journalists, BECTU and Amicus – issue ballot papers to their members, asking whether they want to take strike action against proposed job cuts.

Some 174 jobs are earmarked for the axe in Scotland alone, with the BBC claiming the savings will free-up resources for future investment in programme making.

Since many of the jobs being lost are in editorial and programme-making departments, the unions are wary of the claim. And when a meeting with BBC director-general, Mark Thompson, failed to appease, the vote for industrial action soon followed.

Meanwhile, BBC Scotland boss, Ken MacQuarrie, faces interrogation on the cuts by MSPs. Although broadcasting is not a devolved issue, enterprise is, and MSPs have, under the guise of how the proposed cuts will impact on the creative industries in Scotland, insisted MacQuarrie appears in front of them.

The Enterprise and Culture Committee at the Scottish Parliament meets next week and MacQuarrie can expect a rough ride, not least because many MSPs have been heavily briefed by officials of the NUJ, who have, over the last few weeks, taken the opportunity of more informal, cross-party meetings on the media, to present its case. It will be interesting to see to what extent independent TV production companies are used as a pawn in the arguments for and against the cuts.

Clearly, the more of the schedule the BBC is unable to fill from within, the more opportunity for independents.

It was Scottish Press Awards night last night, staged with more than usual apprehension thanks to the debacle that was the British Press Awards a few weeks back. You will remember the London awards degenerating into stand-up arguments, sparked by a few critical remarks of the Daily Mirror by Sir Bob Geldof.

Former Daily Mirror editor, Piers Morgan, wrote of the British Press Awards as “a seething cesspit of hatred, jealousy, drinking, fornication, fighting and general mayhem” and how he always adored them, from start to finish. But he might have added to his list: fragile egos.

It doesn’t require a knight of the realm to utter a snide remark or two to have fists flying. Only the other day, the News of the World withdrew its student sponsorship from City University, in London, because – it is widely assumed – of unflattering comments made by one of its professors, Roy Greenslade, himself, as it happens, a former editor of the Daily Mirror.

Just why some newspaper editors are so sensitive to criticism, when their daily business is doling it out, is frankly amazing. But, in the spirit of friendship, congratulations to last night’s winners.

Mike Wilson is a co-director at www.allmediascotland.com


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