American Pie 13.09.01

 The controversial UN conference on racism in Durban may have focused on the issues of Israel and Palestine, slavery reparations and colonialism, but there was one issue of concern that didn’t make headlines – the efforts to curtail press freedom. A proposal which provoked most anxiety is the suggested creation of national bodies to monitor the press and write codes of conduct for the news media. As one critic here commented: "It’s hard to imagine that, once established, such councils would confine themselves to dealing with hate speech and racism." Also of concern was the proposal for the UN to draft an international code of ethics for the media. It could only lead, it’s feared, to the repression of information. The only way to combat racial and ethnic conflict, as the chairman of the World Press Freedom Committee, Jim Ottaway, pointed out, is through an open press – not one that’s restricted.


Although the new book about Tina Brown and Harry Evans by Washington newswoman Judy Bachrach may for now, for legal reasons, be unavailable in Britain, at least it was published – and is selling briskly – in US bookstores. Not so in the case of a book about another well-known journalist here,ÊAl Neuharth, former chairman of Gannett Newspapers and creator of USA Today. Renowned writer and Pulitzer Prize-winner Michael Gartner was commissioned by the Freedom Forum, the journalistic think-tank that Neuharth also founded, to write a biography of him. After working on it for more than a year, Gartner was told to drop the project. The reason: he stumbled, during his research, on a little scandal back in the Sixties when Neuharth, it seems, fathered an out-of-wedlock daughter, a child he didn’t acknowledge for years.Ê


Playboy and The National Enquirer as bedmates! It’s a possibility. It’s been disclosed that talks between the two took place recently about creating some sort of Êbusiness alliance. Although a deal did not result, it’s said Enquirer owner American Media is keen. All that Christie Hefner, who now runs the company her father founded, would say is that she is always interested in new investors, but that Playboy was not for sale. Although it is one of the world’s best known magazines, it is not a big money maker these days. It took in over $307m (£211m) last year, but by year’s end had lost almost $48m (£33m). This year the loss is expected to be even bigger. Playboy shares have dropped from a high of $33 (£23) to less than $14 (£9).


A controversial proposal that would make it easier to prosecute government officials who might leak classified information is losing steam. After President Bush indicated he was not prepared to support the proposal, the committee planning to hold hearings on it postponed its session. Last year President Clinton vetoed the idea, calling it an "excessive instrument" that might chill legitimate efforts to report on government. News organisations have fought the idea since it was proposed.


The gloom gets deeper. The Wall Street firm of Merrill Lynch forecasts that ad spending this year in the US (as in Europe) will fall a painful 4 per cent – and will be lucky to climb back one per cent next year.ÊWorst hit are likely to be newspapers, TV and magazines. The only bright sign: the price of newsprint is expected to drop very soon.

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