Alas, you can't win it if you're not in it

The most important thing about the Olympic Games, Baron de Coubertin famously said, is taking part. That goes too for the British Press Awards. What a pity that Express group journalists have been banned by Richard Desmond from taking part in the 2002 Awards.

PA editor Jonathan Grun, chairman of the judges, spoke for all of us involved when he responded: "The Awards are a celebration of the best of British journalism. I hope this is only a temporary break. We look forward to welcoming them back next year."

It appears that Desmond boiled over after a year of media criticism (though his critics would contend that he himself supplied their ammunition). The gloss his spokesman put on the withdrawal was: "We have a serious job to do and do not feel it appropriate this year to be overindulging in mutual back-slapping."

How oddly that sits with the group’s delight in garlanding its mastheads with lesser laurels. The Express is: "The Award Winning Newspaper." Its sister title is: "Sunday Newspaper of the Year." The Daily Star is: "THE Newspaper of the Year."

Why would it be inappropriate for the real ‘Oscars’ of British journalism to be won (as well as they might) by such talented Express writers as Charlie Catchpole, Lester Middlehurst, Carol Sarler and Martin Samuel? And might judges even have confounded critics who do not share Desmond’s enthusiasm for columnists such as Vanessa Feltz and Richard and Judy?

Anyway, history hardly supports the assertion that the Awards are mutual back-slapping. It seemed more like mutual back-stabbing to hitherto disappointed Newspaper of the Year hopefuls like Morgan of The Mirror, Yelland of The Sun and Wade of the News of the World.

Proprietors need to take the flak as gleefully as their papers dish it out (not infrequently at the proprietor’s timorous suggestion). Desmond’s Sunday Express media spread exists to scourge rivals. This week: "More chiefs to topple at Trinity?" and "Dacre plots his takeover".

Desmond rubbed it in with a blurb headed: "Everyone’s reading the Sunday Express," which did not find room to include current ABC figures showing that 73.3 per cent of the middle market now read The Mail on Sunday.

Backing out of the Awards will no more immunise Desmond from criticism than smashing the barometer will stop the weather.

An ‘Oscar’ or three would serve the Desmond empire better. Alas, if you aren’t in it, you can’t win it.

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