Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Article excerpt

Recent speeches by Gordon Brown suggest we may be in for some kind of incomes policy. I do hope not. We tend to forget nowadays that for a whole decade, 1964-74, we lived under an incomes policy of one sort or another, though Edward Heath briefly thought he could do without one. Strange effects were produced. One was in journalism. All the successive policies allowed that a change of job could justify an increase in wages. Accordingly political correspondents were transformed into political editors, as they remain today; with what used to be called political reporters promoted to political correspondents. It is all nonsense. Political editors do not edit anything at all. Most of them, indeed, could not edit the proverbial cornflakes packet. Many would not want to try. They do what they have always done: gather their subordinates round them midway through the afternoon and agree who is to write which story. For myself I have never hankered after fancy titles of any kind such as `associate editor'. I am content to go to my grave a columnist.

So many people have already put in their two penn'orth on the Daily Mail's charge of murder against five youths in the Stephen Lawrence case that I am reluctant to add to their number. But I will, because I think I have something new to say. It concerns the Civil Evidence Act 1968. This expressly provides that in defamation proceedings a criminal conviction is conclusive. If Bloggs is convicted of murdering his grandmother, and a paper later publishes an account under `This Fiend Killed His Granny', Bloggs (the fiend in question) cannot then try to reopen the case by suing the paper. But the Act says nothing about acquittals. If Bloggs is acquitted of murdering his grandmother, the paper can run the same story under the same headline. It is then up to him to sue. If Parliament had intended to have acquittals treated in the same way as convictions, it would have said so. It chose not to. Admittedly the Lawrence Five have not been acquitted of murder. Two sets of legal proceedings against them have collapsed for want of evidence. Nevertheless it seems clear that the Mail was well within its legal rights. In this case I think it was justified in exercising them.

After a hard day at the wordface - to be honest, it was more tidying up than hacking out the words - I thought I would settle down before the television to watch England play Italy. I looked up the broadcasting guide in the papers. No sign of any match. Surely some mistake? No: it was being shown on Sky Television only. Now I do not have Sky. I may in the end be forced to acquire it because I write a rugby column in the Independent as well as one on politics in its Sunday sister. I am still managing just about to hold out against Rupert Murdoch. But why should I have to? And why should millions of others? It is often said that Parliament should act to prevent Mr Murdoch from extending still further his control over sporting events. I prefer to place the responsibility where it rests: with the BBC. I pay my licence fee principally to obtain television coverage of national sporting occasions. So do millions of others. This corporation established by charter (as it insists on remaining) is manifestly failing in its public duty. It is fashionable in metropolitan circles now to say that the once reviled John Birt has done an `excellent job'. …

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