Channel 4's head of news and current affairs, Dorothy Byrne, has been emboldened enough to denounce Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn as 'cowards' and 'frits' for dodging television interviews. Reporting from the Edinburgh International Television Festival (EITF), the Press Gazette's Charlotte Tobitt said: 'Comparing Johnson to Putin and Trump in his attitude towards the media, Bryne said politicians must not underestimate the importance to democracy of broadcasters as TV is still the UK's preferred source of news.'
Byrne, one of the longest-serving news chiefs in British television, in delivering the annual MacTaggart Lecture at the EITF, claimed: 'In recent years, there has been a dramatic fall in politicians holding themselves up to proper scrutiny on TV, and in recent months, and even weeks, that decline has, in my view, become critical for our democracy.' She continued in her semi-tirade: 'We have a new prime minister who hasn't held one major press conference or given one major television interview since he came to power. That cannot be right. And we have a leader of the Opposition who similarly fails to give significant interviews on terrestrial TV. We may be heading for an election very soon. What are they going to do then? I genuinely fear that in the next election campaign there will be too little proper democratic debate and scrutiny to enable voters to make informed decisions.'
She pointed out that the prime minister was the only candidate to snub any of the broadcast debate programmes during the recent Conservative party leadership campaign, and claimed that despite promising to do so, Johnson never appeared on Channel 4 News
during the campaign, and he also avoided ITV News
and Channel 5 News
– all of which is produced by ITN.
The prime minister had held his first 'People's PMQs' on Facebook Live. Channel 4, she pointed out, and other broadcasters had declined to cover, explaining: 'We were told it was "unpasteurised" and "unmediated". Of course, it was also unregulated and therefore under no duty to be duly impartial. We did not show that propaganda exercise. And we should not show this propaganda as a matter of course.'
Byrne said that like Vladimir Putin, Johnson 'also likes to talk directly to the nation.' He preferred recording a 'jolly statement' over a grilling on television. Byrne continued: 'What we all need to decide: what do we do when a known liar becomes our prime minister? I've talked to journalists from several television organisations about this issue. They said they would be loathe to use that word "liar". Is it time for us to start using the L-word? I believe that we need to start calling politicians out as liars when they lie.'
She suggested the prime minister had got 'his great idea about not having to bother with people like us' from Donald Trump who makes announcements on Twitter and frequently takes questions only as he is getting onto a helicopter. Noting the 'irony' that both Johnson and Corbyn used to be journalists, Byrne said: 'I would never have thought I would say these words: I believe that Mrs Thatcher would agree with me; Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn are "cowards".' She had a word for men like them – 'Frit' – a colloquial term that means frightened and is used primarily in the Lincolnshire dialect. 'If they really believe in the policies they promote,' she declared, 'they should come onto television to explain them, to allow them to be scrutinised and to justify them.'
She declaimed Conservative party advisers who have reportedly advised Cabinet ministers to ignore the BBC Radio 4 Today
programme as 'cowardly-cats', adding: 'I have previously described listening to the Today
programme as like accidentally walking into a knitting shop in Bournemouth. But even I accept that millions listen to it and they have a right to hear their political leaders.'
Channel 4 – a broadcaster whom I must confess I much admire for its news and current affairs output – is caught up in a battle with 'Netflix and porn' for the attention of younger audiences, joked its Edinburgh-educated chief executive, Alex Mahon. Mahon was also speaking at the EITF and ruminated aloud on the challenge faced by the traditional channels in attracting a new generation of viewers raised on streaming services.
Jim Waterson pointed out: 'Although Mahon's comment ... was said in jest, it reflects a growing acceptance among many senior television executives at the annual industry event that young audiences are unlikely to ever truly embrace scheduled television. This is forcing a radical rethink of how to measure success, with British television bosses increasingly accepting that they are no longer competing with one another but are battling with other forms of entertainment for attention.'
Patrick Holland, the controller of BBC Two, told the audience that he accepted that traditional live television channels were increasingly watched by older and wealthier viewers (I''ll accept the 'older' part, Patrick, but I must pass on the 'wealthier'!). He said that BBC Two was fighting back and the remodelled Top Gear
was attracting a consolidated audience of more than one million viewers in the 16-34 age bracket.
'Broadcast television has a problem with younger audiences' declared Holland. 'The whole of broadcast television has older, posh people watching.' ('Older', I again accept, Patrick. But 'posh'?) He explained that viewers are moving 'towards an iPlayer-only world', aided by the BBC's decision to make most programmes available for up to a year on catch-up.
Rumours are swirling around in the newspaper industry suggesting that up to eight companies are considering bids for JPIMedia assets, according to David Sharman of HoldtheFrontPage
media website. JPIMedia was formed last November after its predecessor company, Johnston Press, went into administration with debts of £220 million.
claims several different companies are in the running to take over parts of the regional newspaper publisher, although it declined to name all interested parties. JPIMedia titles include The Scotsman
, the Edinburgh Evening News
, Scotland on Sunday
, the Sheffield daily The Star
, the i
national and dozens of weekly titles.
Reach plc, Newsquest and Archant are said to be in the picture. Two outsiders mentioned are the Belgian media group, Mediahuis, which recently bought the Irish publisher Independent News & Media, and the former Local World chief executive, David Montgomery, who is in the process of setting up a new company called National World.
According to The Time
s article: 'DC Thomson has mainly ruled out bidding because it considers the likes of The Scotsman
to be overvalued.' Prior to JPIMedia taking control of Johnston Press (JP) last November, JP put itself up for sale resulting in six offers for all or part of the business. It is believed the Daily Mail group (DMGT) put in a bid for the i
title alone. The i
has built up an impressive readership of more than 220,000 in a relatively short time.
However, at the time, JPIMedia considered that none of the offers received, or any combination of them, would result in sufficient proceeds to enable the group to repay its debts in full.
World Rugby is dropping the word 'women's' from its flagship 15s and sevens world cup tournament names – opting instead for gender netral titles for future rugby world cups. According to the Sport Industry Group: 'The first women's competition to feature the change will be known as Rugby World Cup 2021.'
World Rugby chairman Sir Bill Beaumont said: 'Unintentional gender bias in sport is an on-going issue. As a global sporting federation we need to be leading from the front on the issue of equality. By adopting gender balance in the naming of men's and women's Rugby World Cup competitions, we are setting new standards in equality in rugby.' I am curious as to how newspapers will handle this in their stylebooks.
The weekly diary written by Liz Jones, in the Mail on Sunday's You
colour magazine, claims it is 'candid, confessional, controversial' and indeed it is as Liz pours her heart out on the vicissitudes of her life and work. Recently, she related to us that her sometime boyfriend, David, had ruined a mini-break at an expensive country hotel in the New Forest by storming out in the middle of their meal after becoming somewhat tired and emotional. And he had not yet repaid her for the large bill of what was his treat.
Liz, a divorcee, who has certainly proved her journalistic talent over the years, especially as a fashion writer, told us this week of how a 'mildly famous man' had sat beside her at a wedding reception, and on her telling him about the mini-break and David not yet repaying her, he remarked: 'I read about that.' Whereupon diva Jones raged: 'I think I actuallly crashed my forehead on to the lovely white linen tablecloth, making a smudge, like a moth. I hate people knowing everything about me. It's like being in Sainsbury's in a thong and really bad lighting. Seriously, I am more exposed than any of the young women on Love Island
Well, Ms Jones: stop telling us all about it in your weekly confessional. She is always rabbiting on about women's lingerie. So I am going to send her a page from Lidl's latest weekly leaflet which, under a heading 'Sea of comfort', says the garments for sale are 'sustainable underwear powered by seaweed' and made with cotton and SeaCell – 'a sustainably sourced seaweed fibre'. None of the vests, briefs or trainer socks cost more than £4. Talk about the tangle of the aisles! I must send it to Liz. At least it will keep her out of Sainsbury's wearing a thong.