Feeling gutted after a week of bad news stories

NORMAN GILLER has been on Leveson Watch again this week, and did not like what he heard. But then, he was not impressed with the BBC’s excuse for its all-male shortlist for its sports awards. Could “hang ’em and shoot ’em” Jeremy Clarkson be the solution?

M’learned friends representing Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson must have felt like cheering during the Leveson Inquiry this week when they heard their clients branded “the scum of journalism”.

Lord Justice Leveson:having to tap dance on a high wire

The accusation ­– let’s call it the allegation ­– came from the former News of the World deputy features editor Paul McMullan in a two-hour testimony that swung between drama and farce. He said for all to hear that Coulson had introduced “wholesale” phone hacking when appointed deputy editor of the paper, and described Brooks as “criminal-in-chief.”

I did enough court reporting in my local paper days to know that if and when Brooks and Coulson are charged with any criminal offence, their briefs will insist they cannot get a fair trial.

It astonishes me how much Lord Chief Justice Leveson is allowing witnesses at his hearings to say under oath, knowing that everything is being televised and recorded on line and in print. Conjecture and accusations have been going uncontested from day one of the hearings.

Brooks and Coulson have been publicly hung without a word in their defence, and I don’t see how any jury can be asked to sit in judgement on them without prejudice and intimate knowledge of events.

I have become a Leveson Inquiry junkie and have not missed a moment of the best show in town. It should be required watching for every journalist – news or sport – as our profession is put under the microscope like never before.

Lord Leveson has my sympathy because he is having to tap dance on a high wire, needing evidence for his inquiry into press standards while knowing that (at the last count) there are 17 people under arrest who should not be incriminated by what we are seeing and hearing.

His Lordship wants this to be an open book (okay, newspaper) inquiry, but the ramifications down the line are that many of those who could be charged have no chance of a fair, balanced trial.

Take it from this ancient hack – in the old-fashioned sense – the defence lawyers will use evidence from the Leveson Inquiry to block any chance of their cients appearing in court.

After opening the inquiry with “evidence” from the celebs, this week has been when journalists have been giving testimony. But McMullan and whistle-blowing former Daily Star reporter Richard Peppiatt have been describing a newspaper world of which I have no knowledge.

Asked if he had been told off by his superiors at the Star for making up quotes, Peppiatt replied to a background of stifled laughter: “Yes, I was told off… because the quotes I made up were not good enough.”

In my day (writes Granddad Giller) we would have got the instant tintack if we had fabricated stories in the way Peppiatt said that he and his Star colleagues did.

It has been torture for any self-respecting journalist to have to sit through the evidence of people like the McCanns and Milly Dowler’s parents to hear the depths to which newspaper reporters – and let’s not forget, the editors – have sunk for the sake of a headline. The “gutter press” phrase has taken on new redolent meaning.

It is going to take months for Lord Leveson to pull all the evidence together and come up with proposals that will tighten – but hopefully not suffocate – press standards.

And you do not have to be a great visionary to know that further down the road there are going to be court cases, and you can bet all the money in Rupert Murdoch’s bank account that several of them will be kicked out because there has been too much disclosure at the Leveson Inqury.

Oh, what a legal web they are weaving.

SO THE BBC blames our esteemed newspaper sports editors for the controversy over their all-male shortlist for the Sports Personality of the Year Award.

My man at the BBC tells me: “We use a panel of 27 sports editors from national and regional newspapers to help draw up our shortlist for the voting. It is they who submitted lists without any women.”

Keri-Anne Payne: a world champion, but not good enough for the BBC

It’s a bit pathetic for the BBC sports bosses to hide behind journalists who are purely giving an opinion. Somebody somewhere at the Beeb should have looked at the list and conceded that it was, to say the least, unbalanced.

Surely a case could have been made out for the likes of Helen Jenkins, Chrissie Wellington, Sarah Stevenson, Rebecca Adlington and Kerri-Ann Payne to have been considered for the list? Each has won more world titles in 2011 than, say, golf’s world No1 Luke Donald or tennis Grand Slam finallist Andy Murray. But, of course, none of the women are involved in sports that have hugely expensive TV rights agreements. Not that this would come into the BBC thinking, of course.

Interesting to note that when we published the top six women in the running for the SJA British Sportswoman of the Year prize, as a result of our own, annual poll (which we have been doing since 1959 for sportswomen), we still received complaints because this woman or that woman was not in the top six. Where, we were asked for instance, was Faye White to recognise the Arsenal Ladies’ domestic league and cup success?

It is going to be fascinating to see if the prominent sportswomen and women broadcasters, the likes of Clare Balding, Gabby Logan, Sue Barker, Rebecca Adlington or Baroness Grey-Thompson, opt to duck out of this year’s men-only SPOTY when it is staged on a Thursday night before Christmas (avoiding going to head-to-head with ITV’s X Factor finale on its usual Sunday evening slot).

The Beeb are going back to the drawing board to find a new nominations format for the 2012 Olympic year. In recent times they have tried to turn their awards ceremony into a mega production to rival Last Night of the Proms. Now they are returning to a studio setting in Salford, and are desperate for ideas to attract a huge television audience to justify the expense of what remains a costly show (count the number of production staff listed at the end of this year’s programme).

Here’s an idea for them: how about getting BBC regular Jeremy Clarkson to shoot the panel of sports editors live on air? That should pull in the viewers.

    • Your SJA annual subscriptions are due on Jan 1. Make sure that you don’t lose your membership, and the rights and privileges that go with it, including discounts on the forthcoming British Sports Journalism and Photography Awards. Click here for a standing order form