What all journalists do not want is for NI CEO Rebekah Brooks to become a casualty of the phone hacking scandal. Brooks is, says NORMAN GILLER, a true champion of our profession
Let us hope that the redoubtable Rebekah Brooks is not dragged kicking and screaming into the phone hacking scandal that is engulfing News International. Take it from me, she is every journalist’s best friend at a time when we need all the support we can get.
I had better own up to some bias about Mrs Brooks. Last month she stepped into a legal war I was having with The Sun over the copyright of a puzzle – “The Name Game” – that I created in 1974, and which has appeared in every edition of the paper for 36 years. Only the Page 3 girls have had more exposure.
My son and right-hand man, Michael, had submitted the puzzle for the last 15 years, without missing a deadline. But last year, suddenly, we were bumped off with two months’ notice money (yes, after 36 years) as all The Sun puzzles and crosswords became sourced from another outfit.
I put Sue, Grabbit and Runne on red alert, because I remain convinced that The Name Game is my intellectual property and so belongs to me, morally and legally.
My David v Goliath battle was with Sun hit man, deputy managing editor Richard Barun, who stubbornly stood between me and what I saw as justice.
I decided to bring in an old acquaintance to help my fight. I went over Richard’s head to News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks. Richard was not best pleased, but this was gloves-off stuff.
A few years ago I was commissioned by On the Box Productions (the DVD creation company run by Top Gear director Brian Klein) to help Rebekah and the then News of the World editor, one Andy Coulson, write their scripts for a two-handed presentation at the News International annual conference in Mexico.
Rebekah – then Ms Wade and married to actor Ross Kemp ¬ was a joy to work with, while Andy was totally professional, if cold and demanding.
Fast forward to 2011 and I thought I would let Rebekah know about the treatment I was getting after 36 years’ loyal service. Why not? She had nothing else to do apart from grapple with the fall out of the phone hacking crisis and prepare to host her admiring boss Rupert Murdoch on his latest visit to London.
It would have been the easiest thing in the world for Rebekah to sidestep my plea for help. I was fully expecting a response along the lines: “Sorry, this is outside my jurisdiction and I have other fairly important issues on which to concentrate. Richard Barun is the man dealing with it and all correspondence should be with him.”
But instead, with great executive flair, she sent a memo to Richard Barun, copied to me, in which she stated: “I am sure you and Norman can resolve this issue, Richard … Norman, if you are not happy with the final outcome, please get back in touch.”
Jon Chapman, News International’s Head of Legal Affairs, took time off from much more minor matters to write me a “Without Prejudice” summary of his company’s position. He would make no concessions on the copyright but made a reasonable offer to “close the matter”.
It was half what I was seeking, and I reiterated that I considered The Name Game my intellectual property. But I accepted the offer because it freed me from the minefield of having to line lawyers’ pockets.
Back in the 1990s, I sued Channel 4 when they ran a Who’s The Greatest? series with Daley Thompson that bore a close resemblance to a show I created in the 1980s for ITV. I paid £2,000 to brief a barrister, who told me I had a strong case. I left his office full of fight.
But I was deflated the following day by a fax (yes, it was pre-emails) in which my solicitor informed me the barrister was prepared to represent me, provided I deposited £30,000 in a “standby” fund. Exit Giller, feeling anything but the greatest. I had no desire to repeat that experience.
Rebekah Brooks is a decent, caring person and she is ready to fight the corner for us much-maligned journalists.
Rebekah used the Cudlipp Lecture at the London College of Communications to stress: “Cost-cutting in this business only works if the savings are reinvested in journalism. The death knell is already ringing for publishers who have forgotten our reason for being.
“The quality of our journalism will make or break our industry, not the recession.”
ON MONDAY WE GOT firm evidence during transfer deadline day that football has gone completely off its rocker. At a time when our economy is in a perilous state and ordinary people’s jobs are being lost left, right and centre, the little matter of £225 million changed hands for over-paid, over-priced players.
On Facebook, I asked how long before the public wakes up to just how immoral and greedy football has become. Surely, I suggested, there must be a backlash. The responses were about 50 to 1 agreeing with me.
This time last year I lambasted Sky Sports News for the over-hyped way they covered a generally dormant transfer deadline day. But this time they got it right and were always on the ball.
My only beef is that they should have had somebody of sound mind – a journalist? – balancing the views of their two ex-players, Iain Dowie and Tony Cascarino, who hardly mentioned the fact that many of the fees were inflated to a point of insanity.
There was another excellent up-to-the-minute source of transfer news online at ESPN Soccernet, masterminded by old Fleet Street pro Harry “Scoop” Harris. “Aitch” informs me that the ESPN website had a phenomenal number of hits via their 24-hour rolling bulletin.
“We were breaking stories ahead of the tired old Fleet Street empires and the BBC, with its enormous army of journalists throughout the regions,” trumpeted Harry, who has never lost his skill at self-promotion.
Yes, Harry, but I would have liked to have read more on ESPN about the madness of Chelsea – on the day they announced a £70 million loss for the previous busness year – paying a footballer weekly wages of £175,000, and of Liverpool paying £35 million for the largely untried powerhouse Andy Carroll.
Carroll could be as rich as you soon, Aitch.
And can you explain the off-side law?
Read Norman Giller’s previous columns for the SJA website by clicking here