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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

BBC Breakfast and the Blurred Lines of celebrity journalism

It’s bad enough to conduct a lame, sycophantic interview with a high-profile celebrity on what is supposed to be a news programme. It’s much, much worse when the issue at stake is so important.

But the BBC’s dismal Breakfast programme managed to pull off a rare achievement on Wednesday morning (28/05/14): handing Pharrell Williams valuable publicity and allowing him a free hit to somehow depict himself as a feminist.

Williams was one of the unholy trinity behind 2013’s ‘Blurred Lines': the Horst Wessel song for misogynists. In a pop video of astonishing cynicism, a fully clothed Williams danced around half-naked young women singing the toxic line he wrote: ‘I know you want it!’

Described as ‘rapey’ by critics, Blurred Lines caused a storm of protest. There were plenty of apologists but whatever the intentions, the song and video served only to objectify women and undermine the concept of sexual consent. 

When it comes to sex, no must always mean no; Blurred Lines suggests otherwise, an appalling message. The power dynamic in the video is also clear. The clothed men are in charge, the women merely playthings.

So BBC Breakfast’s Sally Nugent had plenty to go at when she was put in front of Williams. What would she ask him about Blurred Lines? Did he regret the controversy? Was he ashamed of himself?

No Nugent – or Nugget as she will henceforth be known – said the following: “The thing that I notice from your latest songs is you really love women.”

You may need a minute to digest that statement. I did. Even Williams looked a bit taken aback. His eyes said it all. He looked at Nugget and seemed to think: ‘I know she wants it.’

Williams then went on to paint himself as a tireless campaigner for women’s rights.

He said: “There's a lot that women go through that us, as men, that we just will never be able to understand. We can read about it, we can study it as much as we want but until we walk in your shoes, we won't know what it's like.

“And so, for me, I intended to talk about that a little bit and spread some of that message in my album and just try and push your fight.”

Nugget leapt on this, demanding to know how exactly Blurred Lines had pushed the fight for women’s rights. Except she didn’t. She continued to fawn as Williams said how he would ‘love to see’ a female US President and would be supporting Hillary Clinton if she made a bid for the White House.

Williams said women were “not treated equally in politics...(and) definitely not treated equally in society”.

Again, Nugget sensed the blatant hypocrisy of this statement and almost shouted at Williams to explain how on Earth stripped, mute women dancing around clothed men singing ‘I know you want it’ helped women get equal treatment in society. Except she didn’t.

It wasn’t in any sense journalism. It was unabashed PR. It was shameful.


Maintaining a professional distance: Nugget and Williams.
It’s an unfortunate irony that it took a male journalist to make amends for Nugget’s embarrassing capitulation.

Channel 4 News’ Krishnan Guru-Murthy did what she should have done in an interview held with Williams directly after he had spoken to the BBC.


Williams did his best to justify Blurred Lines. Ultimately he came across as intelligent but wholly disingenuous: a man content to enjoy the financial rewards of chauvinism but unwilling to hold his hand up and admit to it.

As for Sally Nugget, perhaps she could conduct her next interview with Williams stripped down to her smalls.

Perhaps then she might feel the sense of sinister intent inherent in Pharrell Williams’ famous lyric and realise that when it comes to intelligent, responsible journalism - and women's rights - there are no blurred lines.

Friday, May 16, 2014

The lucrative TV pair-up made in Hell: Jeremy Clarkson and Piers Morgan

In the showbiz scoop of the year, Rhubarb Grumble can exclusively reveal that arch-rivals Jeremy Clarkson and Piers Morgan have been lined up to co-present a new big-budget programme combining motoring and travel.

Entitled ‘Clarkson Drives a Morgan’ the show will see the Top Gear presenter take the wheel alongside his nemesis in a roadtrip around the world, visiting some of the most beautiful - and dangerous – places across the globe. 

And, yes, the vehicle chosen for the journey is a Morgan: the new six-cylinder Roadster 3.7 to be precise.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a programme insider said: “We envisage a show that’s a cross between a series of Top Gear Specials and The Trip (the hit sitcom starring Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan) but it will be on steroids because these two really f***ing hate each other.

“When we pitched the idea to Jeremy he laughed and told us to f*** off but when we told him Piers was on board he agreed, just so it wouldn’t look like he’d chickened out. The truth is, we got Piers to agree by saying Jeremy was up for it and he had mocked Piers, saying he would chicken out.

“So we kind of tricked them both into signing up by playing on their huge egos and unbelievably childish rivalry. Now they’ve both contractually bound to deliver. It’s literally unbelievable!

He added: “We’re expecting fireworks when we finally bring them together. Actually, we’re expecting military-grade explosives. It will be absolutely unmissable, appointment TV.” 

A TV match made in Hell?

Because Clarkson and Morgan are both globally recognised brands due to the success of Top Gear and Piers’s CNN profile, producers are expecting the show to be snapped up by networks in multiple territories. Shooting is pencilled in for 2016. 

Clarkson is expected to announce soon that the next series of Top Gear will be his last. The controversial presenter has been under fire in the media for his apparent use of the N-word in out-takes from the show which went viral. 

He apologised and revealed in a newspaper article that the BBC had given him his last warning. It seems he has jumped before the inevitable push.

As for Morgan, the former tabloid editor has been dumped from his CNN show ‘Piers Morgan Tonight’ after lacklustre ratings. 

Naturally, Clarkson - who once broke a finger punching Morgan at the British Press Awards – welcomed this event as manna from heaven but it didn’t stop him writing an excoriating column in which he claimed Morgan was axed because 'everyone hates him'.

When asked about the new show, a source close to Clarkson said: “This is fantasy. Jeremy would rather join The Green Party than spend even five minutes in a car with Morgan. 

“Actually, that’s not true. He’d happily drive him but only if Piers was bound and gagged in the boot and Jeremy could jump out before the car plunged into a deep ravine.”

A friend of Morgan said: “Piers has bigger issues on his mind than rescuing Jeremy Clarkson from himself. 

"But when the inevitable happens, and Clarkson’s career is ended by his own stupidity, Piers will be happy to give him a job. He understands Jeremy makes a great cup of tea.”

Despite the denials, ‘Clarkson drives a Morgan’ is an idea that could net the two men millions. Whether they would survive long enough to spend it though is more difficult to say.


Sunday, May 11, 2014

Outrage at outage: Sky’s NOW TV service scores own goal on last day of the season

Sky is promising a mass refund of customers left seething when its NOW TV service crashed on the last day of the English Premier League football season.

Thousands of fans had paid the hefty £9.99 fee for a 'day pass' specifically to access Sky Sports channels and watch the drama unfold.

But not long after the key games had got under way, the NOW TV service fell over. Fans took to social media sites to express their outrage.

NOW TV - many are now calling the service 'NO TV'

Eamonn Daw (@z0mgosh) wrote on Twitter: “Miserable effort. Thank you for ruining the final day of the football season.”

Conor Flaherty (@ConorFlaherty) posted: “Never use #NowTV or you will just get ripped off.”

George Swindale (@gwswindale) expressed his frustration with this wry comment:  “Hopefully the next 45 minutes of error messages will be as exciting as the first #NOWTV.”

As the crucial matches at Anfield and the Etihad Stadium headed towards half-time, and NOW TV customers continued to miss the action, silence from the company about the problem exacerbated the situation.

Wry humour from one NOW TV user. Many on Twitter were far less sanguine.


Eventually, 53 minutes after kick-off, Tom-R, the Community Manager of the NOW TV forums, posted a message acknowledging that “some customers may be unable to watch NOW TV”.

Nine minutes later, a second message from Tom-R promised those affected a refund or a replacement day pass.

NOW TV eventually got around to telling its customers what they already knew: it was broken

But that’s unlikely to satisfy many of those who forked out a tenner to ensure they wouldn’t miss the crucial closing day of what has been a nip-and-tuck season for the top teams.

One fan said: “This was the first time I have bought a day pass from NOW TV. You can be sure it will be the last. I don’t just want a refund: I want compensation for the destruction of what should have been a special day of sport.

“Did NOW TV not realise there would be high demand on the final day of the season? According to the messages I’ve seen on Twitter, this isn’t even the first time this has happened. It’s disgraceful. Somebody’s head should be on the block for this.”

When the final whistle went, it was Manchester City who were crowned champions.  As they begin their celebrations, Sky bosses will be asking NOW TV managers why a day that should have been defined by record revenues turned into a costly own goal.

Monday, May 5, 2014

The N-word should be put into context

The fury over Jeremy Clarkson’s use of the N-word is as risible as it is pathetic.

He should be sacked!” scream the usual suspects; politicians line up to add their shrill and opportunistic opprobrium.

Labour’s painfully PC deputy leader Harriet Harman tweeted the following unbelievably senseless statement: “Anybody who uses the N-word in public or private in whatever context has no place in the British Broadcasting Corporation.”



In whatever context? Really Harriet? Surely context is key? Words have no power without context. 

Let’s imagine a couple of scenarios:

1) Two BBC employees are discussing rap music in the office. They’re away from their desks in a relatively private space.  One gives his mate a burst of one of his favourite tracks. It features the N-word. No offence is taken as both acknowledge the N-word as common currency in hip-hop and rap. 

2) A discussion is taking place among BBC journalists who are working on a look-back feature about the famous Dambusters mission of 1943. Someone reflects how times have changed in the intervening years for the better, recalling that Wing Commander Guy Gibson found it acceptable to call his dog "Nigger".  

In both scenarios, imagine the BBC employees are black. Would Ms Harman really expect them to be sacked? What if they were white? Would this make a difference to her? 

What if you knew this blog was being written by a person of African descent. Maybe it is. Would that colour (no pun intended) your view of the arguments rehearsed herein? What if it was written by a white South African? Or a white Republican from Mississippi?

Context matters, it really does. And if the most powerful woman in the Labour Party can’t understand this, she really should be sacked. 

One thing that is unacceptable in any context is paedophilia which is ironic, given that Harriet Harman doesn’t appear to think so.  She’s expressed "regrets" that a civil liberties group she once worked for had links to pro-paedophile campaigners in the 1970s but insists she has "nothing to apologise for".

Compare and contrast Jeremy Clarkson’s conduct.

His use of the N-word came during out-takes for Top Gear which Clarkson himself sought to ensure were never broadcast. He had mumbled the word accidentally as he recited the ancient nursery rhyme Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe. He wasn’t screaming it through bared teeth at an EDL rally. 

He initially denied using the word and appeared shocked when he viewed the footage again and heard that something approximating the N-word was, kind of, audible. He issued an unreserved apology. Harman has gone out of her way to avoid doing any such thing.



But it’s not just Harriet Harman who is happy to give voice to half-baked comments when it comes to the sacred cows of political correctness.

Mary Creagh is Labour’s frontbench transport spokeswoman. Appearing on BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions programme she admitted she hadn’t seen the out-takes at the heart of the row but was still more than willing to pass judgement.

“I think what (Clarkson) said is abhorrent to most people,” she said. 

Mary 'Crazy' Creagh
Really? Most people probably haven’t even seen the out-takes in question, just like she hasn’t. No member of the public would have either had the footage not been leaked, probably by someone Clarkson has pissed off once too often.

And, just for a reality check, would those who have seen it really think it “abhorrent”. If the racist version of Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe fits that description, how should one describe footage of a Taliban decapitation or suicide bombing, also available on the internet?

The former editor of The Sun, Kelvin McKenzie, was alongside Creagh on the Any Questions panel. He said Clarkson was “nuts” to say what he had, given the toxic nature of the word. 

He may be right. Clarkson courts controversy deliberately to generate publicity for Top Gear and he may have lost the plot in his bid for headlines. Even thinking the N-word is madness in the current political climate. 

But if we don’t challenge politicians who insist that context is irrelevant when it comes to our use of language our free speech will be truly endangered.

And then the lunatics will finally take over the asylum.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Rodgers blasts former mentor Mourinho

Brendan Rodgers has blasted the tactics of Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho after Liverpool fluffed their lines at Anfield, losing 2-nil to their Premier League title rivals.

Rodgers inferred Chelsea played an unsporting, negative, long-ball game -- and time-wasted from kick-off until the final whistle.

He delivered his verdict on the match coolly but there was fire in his comments which could spark a war of words with The Special One. 

In a post-match interview the Ulsterman pointedly told the BBC: "I can only pay tribute to my players."

He went on to say Liverpool were "clearly the better side" but Chelsea had parked "two buses" - a reference to the defensive tactics that defined Mourinho's approach to the game.

Congratulating Chelsea with all the honesty of a politician submitting his expenses, Rodgers said the Blues played with a "back six".

He said: "My team's a team that wants to be offensive. They want to win games by playing good football, to be creative.

"Chelsea were playing virtually with a back six, three midfield players in front, goalkeeper, and obviously looking to hit the ball long up to Demba Ba. And I thought for the game we controlled most of what they had, which was long balls through to Demba Ba, long throw-ins...

"It was interesting that they actually got in, I think it was the 92nd minute, a booking for time-wasting when it was clear right from the very off that was the case."

He added: "We aim to win the game in a sporting manner and we aim to be creative and attacking in our football."

The protege bites back


Jose Mourinho, naturally, saw things differently.

He told the Beeb the win was a "beautiful victory", a "magnificent performance by every one" of his players and an example of "great discipline and team work".

He bristled at the suggestion his tactics were negative and said he prepared his side to secure a maximum three points.

When asked whether he accepted the title race was now a three-way tussle between Liverpool, Manchester City and the Blues he replied: "Forget it, forget it."

Anyone who thinks Mourinho will "forget it" has a very short memory.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Kevin Keegan to replace David Moyes as Manchester United manager

The former Newcastle boss, Kevin Keegan, is to replace David Moyes as Manchester United manager.

The club has managed to keep the stunning appointment strictly under wraps, despite intense pressure from the media.

But Keegan is set to be unveiled at a news conference in the next few days. 

A club insider said: “We’re likely to face an almighty backlash when this appointment is announced. 

“Everyone inside the club has been sworn to secrecy on pain of dismissal. This has come from the very top – the yanks (the Glazer family) want him, so that’s that. 

“But we’re bracing ourselves for an absolute ****storm from the fans. They’re not going to like it one bit.”

Famous rivalry: Keegan and Fergie
Keegan has been out of the sport since his second stint at Newcastle ended in acrimony in 2008.

It had been assumed that he would never return to frontline football, choosing instead to accept the easier life of a pundit.

But sources close to the 63-year-old say his hunger has returned. They also insist he feels he’s addressed some of his managerial shortcomings through intensive study of tactics employed by the most successful continental sides. 

Whether that is enough to persuade weary Manchester United fans that he can succeed where Moyes has failed is doubtful, to say the least.

Keegan’s rivalry with Sir Alex Ferguson is the stuff of football folklore. 

During the Premiership title race in 1995–96, he famously revealed his animosity towards Sir Alex during a live TV interview. 

He said he would “love it, love it!” if Newcastle beat the Red Devils to the title. They didn’t. Keegan was haunted by the failure and quit in January 1997.


A short spell as England manager highlighted Keegan’s tactical naivety -- and his willingness to walk out when the pressure mounts.

How he’ll fare in one of the toughest jobs in world football remains to be seen but rival fans have already taken to social media websites to take the mickey.

@bluesbrother wrote on Twitter: “Keegan to manage Man U. LOOOOOOOOL. I’d ‘love it – LOVE IT!’ if it’s true.”

@scousemouse posted: “Putting Keegan in charge at Old Trafford is a great idea. He’ll do a great job for them in 2016 – in the Championship!”



Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Hosepipe ban hits flood-soaked Somerset

A hosepipe ban has been introduced in Somerset as efforts continue to help people whose homes and businesses have been inundated during the wettest winter in centuries.

The county-wide ban prohibits the use of hosepipes for activities such as washing cars, filling paddling pools and watering plants and lawns.

Flicking the jet into the air to create a mini rain shower and putting a thumb over the end of the hosepipe to make the water come out really fast is also covered by the ban.

As residents were evacuated from their homes by fire crews, South Bessex Water officials in chest-high waders could be seen attempting to distribute laminated leaflets and posters warning of the ban's imposition.

When asked what they were doing, one of them replied: "Sorry, I can't say anything. You'll have to talk to our head office. Can you pass me that leaflet before it floats away."


Laminated posters are being displayed across Somerset


Although a swathe of Somerset is underwater, the village of Chunder has been particularly badly affected by the flooding.

One of the village's older residents, Reginald Niffmags (76) has been living in a floating wheelie bin for the last two weeks. When told of the hosepipe ban, he became so agitated his temporary home almost capsized.

"I literally can't believe what you're telling me. You must be making it up. What next? Is the council going to fine me for overloading my wheelie bin --with myself!

"I didn't storm the beaches of Normandy for this. I didn't storm the beaches of Normandy at all - I was only six at the time - but that's besides the point. 

"This is just another example of the appalling level of service we've come to expect from our useless utility companies. I've already had to sell my wife just to pay our last gas bill, and now this!"

A spokesman for South Bessex Water said the hosepipe ban was "just a precaution" and would only remain in place for the rest of the winter, the whole of summer and "probably a bit of autumn".

He said: "We recognise that this ban may seem utterly ludicrous to some of our customers, especially those whose treasured possessions are now drenched with filthy, sewage-contaminated water, but it's a necessary measure to safeguard their future supplies.

"We also know that some people will question whether they're getting value for their water rates, and point to our increased profits with weary dismay.

"What these people need to understand is that if we invested all our money in renewing and maintaining out network of pipes, sure, we'd save water, but what would we have left to give to our shareholders and senior managers?

"Obscene salaries, luxury company cars and gilt-edged pension packages don't fall from the sky like rain you know."

The spokesman refused to be drawn on an internal memo that was apparently emailed to journalists by an anonymous South Bessex Water employee which indicated that water rationing might be introduced if people flouted the hosepipe ban, or even openly questioned it.

He said: "We don't comment on leaks, no pun intended."