Back Issues 09.12.04

Jon Slattery trawls the archives to look at what was making Press Gazette headlines in 12.84


Journalist Tom Price had started a campaign against bingo in the newspapers. The game had gripped the national tabloids with The Sun and The Mirror offering £1m prizes. Price, news editor of The Forest Review in Gloucestershire, claimed that certain key numbers would never come up. “The readers are led to believe they are playing a fun game in which all have an equal chance. In fact, all but a handful aren’t playing anything at all.” Price planned to take his fight to the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Office of Fair Trading. He had formed the Campaign for Responsible Newspapers, claiming the bingo war was destroying the credibility of newspapers.


A witch complained to the Press Council that she had been a victim of subterfuge by a reporter after she placed a lonely hearts ad in a
local newspaper. The ad said: “Witch desires magical man to fly alongside, share veggie cauldron and spellbound unpolluted kisses. Earth years 30 plus.” A reporter from the Sunday Independent in Plymouth replied to the ad, said he was an unemployed salesman  seeking to give up smoking and become a vegetarian. The witch complained that he interviewed her for two hours on the phone and called round with a photographer. Sunday Independent editor Mike Gabbert, who later went on to briefly edit the Daily Star , told the Press Council that the story was a matter of public interest in the West Country, where witchcraft was rife, churches were  desecrated and animals were sacrificed. The Press Council was unmoved and upheld the complaint.


Private Eye had finally been accepted by W.H. Smith – the retailer it dubbed “WH Smug” – after 20 years of publication. Private Eye was selling 205,000 copies and the deal with WH Smith was expected to add 50,000 to its circulation.


The press was putting pressure on Chancellor Nigel Lawson in a bid to stop him imposing VAT on newspapers and magazines. A total of 36 Conservative MPs had come out against the move. The Newspaper Publishers Association had warned that the imposition of the tax could kill off four national newspapers. The Association of Free Newspapers warned VAT would cost the sector £46 million and put the brakes on its growing success. It was also estimated that VAT would cut magazine circulations by 15 per cent. The Newspaper Society had begun an advertising campaign against the tax. In the end Lawson backed down. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher believed the furore the tax would cause would stop the press from giving the thumbs-up to Lawson’s budget.


A dispute over the introduction of new technology at The News, Portsmouth, had escalated. Members of the NUJ were sent home after they refused to work on VDUs and the union retaliated by going into a mandatory meeting. Among management proposals was the transfer of three NGA printers to editorial.


James Naughtie, sporting a Zapata moustache, was moving from The Scotsman to become political correspondent for The Guardian. Naughtie, now a presenter of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, was Scottish Journalist of the Year at the time.

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