Banks' Notes 18.11.05

MARK MY words: either Sir Christopher Meyer is buggered or the Press
Complaints Commission is a lame duck. Maybe even a dead one. The affair
that refuses to die can only end in tears. Larry Lamb would have shaken
his sad, woolly head and summed up the situation thus: “Oh, Mr Meyer,
sir…”

Larry Lamb? The BBC puppet is the character of whom I
write, not the late, great creator of the modern Sun. Although Sir
Larry would have shared the serious yet largely unvoiced concerns of
the majority of editors high and lowly who view the tussle between
journalism’s self-imposed ombudsman and the outraged Establishment.

Don’t
get me wrong: I regard Sir Christopher as up there with the best of
them. I’m a journalist. I approve of whistleblowers, gossipy sources
and people unafraid to voice the truth. Men and women dedicated to
keeping the bastards honest.

Meyer gets my vote as inaugural
winner of the John Humphrys Tell It Like It Was award. His honesty,
tittle-tattle and tales of PM’s shirts are to be applauded, not
lamented.

His recollections, whose accuracy has not been
questioned, are valuable intelligence for those who question the wisdom
and actions of the leaderships of two nations in the invasion of a
third.

His timing, on the other hand, is execrable. It threatens
the stability, maybe the existence, of the PCC and calls into question
his judgment in believing he could maintain his chairmanship while
making a fortune from a kiss-and-tell that negotiated its way into the
pages of publications whose objectivity and fairness he judges every
day.

The
PCC’s own guidelines on the appointment of members states: “The
chairman must not be engaged in or, otherwise than by his office as
chairman, connected with or interested in the business of publishing
newspapers, periodicals or magazines.”

Which sentiment contained in the above sentence did the good knight not understand?

Oh, Mr Meyer, sir…

WHO RULES a newspaper? Not its proprietor, CEO or shareholders.

They merely own it. Not its readership, either: they govern only, by
dint of daily purchase, its choice of content and, to some extent, the
direction of its comment.

Give up? The answer is the newspaper’s
editor. Until the day, that is, when he or she is fired. Of course,
getting rid of an editor is an expensive business, but there are a
couple of ways around it, and I’ve experienced both.

Gaining the
editorship of Rupert Murdoch’s Sydney Daily Telegraph, I was “rewarded”
with the imposition of an Editor-in- Chief. The former editor was my
constant companion at daily conferences, morning and evening. It ruined
our previous great relationship and contributed nothing but unease to
the newspaper’s smooth running.

Losing
the Daily Mirror editorship, on the other hand, I was “rewarded” with
the title of Editorial Director and all the blandishments that went
with it. The title means nothing: editorial directors are good only for
directing traffic and lunching. No ED who has ever run his own paper
would dream of offering more than a shoulder for the current editor to
cry on.

“Is there much more of this?” as grumpy copytakers used to ask of verbose reporters in the old days.

Simply
this: brethren, your prayers are asked for the editors of the Daily and
Sunday Telegraphs, “rewarded” with their very own father figure in the
shape of… an Editor-in-Chief.

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