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Ian Burrell

Ian Burrell edits the Media Weekly pages of The Independent.

Beckham the golden marketeer

Posted by Ian Burrell
  • Friday, 12 March 2010 at 09:34 am

My colleague Ian Herbert speculates this morning that David Beckham's donning of a green and gold scarf after Wednesday evening's Champions League game with Milan may have been an indication that the former United player was willing to become involved in the campaign to oust the Glazer family from Old Trafford.

Having, like many football fans, watched Beckham's adroit manipulation of the media for many years, I'd say the motives are a lot closer to home. Goldenballs was thinking about his customer base, the core of which are the legions of Manchester United fans who adored him in his heyday and who will very likely buy into his branded products when he finally hangs up his boots. 

What a publicity coup it was! Front page of The Times, the lead picture on most of the sports pages. Beckham, nothing more than a substitute for the heavily beaten Italian side, even eclipsed Wayne Rooney, the man whose goals gave United a historic victory on the night.

That's how he does it, David Beckham. Even when he failed to get on the pitch during England's recent Wembley victory over Egypt, he ensured he spent much of the triumphant second half standing up in the dugout, drawing the attention of the television cameras and sharing in the glory as Peter Crouch came up with the goods on the pitch.

Whenever a goal is scored by a team he's playing for, Beckham will strain every sinew to be the best man at the celebration, flashing the killer smile towards the photographers as he embraces the player who actually put the ball in the net - irrespective of whether he delivered the final pass. There's a lesson for a young player with aspirations for a media profile.

It's all about the photo opportunity. I was in the Bernabeu when Becks was humiliatingly benched for El Clasico against Barcelona, but even then he outfoxed the photographers who had come for that shot of him looking cast aside, a sign that Brand Beckham had become tarnished. Though he didn't participate in the game until the dying embers, he kept those teeth flashing for the full 90 minutes.

There can be few United fans - and Beckham is a lifelong supporter of the club - who don't have a degree of sympathy with the values of the anti-Glazer campaign, with its romantic links to the colours of the Newton Heath club from which the Red Devils emerged. But Becks also knows these people will remain his key clientele when he's negotiating future sponsorship deals, as he surely will well beyond his playing days. To me those scarves look like the green and yellow of Norwich City. But to David Beckham the yellow is gold, definitely gold.

Guardian cuts historic link with Manchester

Posted by Ian Burrell
  • Tuesday, 9 February 2010 at 11:06 am

Guardian Media Group, owners of The Guardian and The Observer, has severed its historic ties with Manchester by selling its regional media arm to rival media organisation Trinity Mirror.

The sale, for £44.8m, includes the Manchester Evening News as well as southern titles including the Reading Post. GMG, which posted a pre-tax loss of  £89.8m last year, is desperate for money but will make only £7.4m in cash from Trinity. The rest of the deal comes from Trinity releasing GMG from a £37.4m print contract.

The sale of the Manchester Evening News will have been a painful decision for GMG, given that its national daily title started life as The Manchester Guardian. The group's CEO Carolyn McCall said: "The Manchester Evening News and its sister titles have made a huge contribution to the fortunes of the group for the best part of a century."

But GMG's regional arm has seen its income tumble with the loss of advertising and profits fell to £500,000 last year from £14.3m in the year to March 2008. With GMG suffering losses of £100,000 a day the group felt that it could no longer afford to retain an interest in the ailing regional press.

British company breaks US reality TV audience record

Posted by Ian Burrell
  • Tuesday, 9 February 2010 at 09:59 am
Undercover Boss, based on the Channel 4 show of the same name and made by All3Media's Studio Lambert, pulled an audience of 38.6m, making it the highest-rating premiere for an American reality television show.

The main reason was that it was shown directly after the Super Bowl but then it wouldn't have had that prime slot in the schedule if CBS didn't think it was any good. The critics liked it too. "An hour of feel-good television for underappreciated workers," said the New York Daily News.

The Brit made show also benefited from an hour long plug from Oprah Winfrey on her chat show.

Football Association postpones anti-homophobia campaign

Posted by Ian Burrell
  • Monday, 8 February 2010 at 11:21 am

Football is again under fire after cancelling the premiere of a film intended to be launched at Wembley Stadium next week  to counteract homophobia in the professional game.

Gay campaigner Peter Tatchell, of the protest group Outrage, has described the mothballing by the Football Association of the 90-second online film - made by advertising agency Ogilvy - as a "big disappointment".

The decision comes at a time when the media frenzy over the sexual activities of John Terry and other players has highlighted the dressing room culture at the top of professional football.

Tatchell has said that he would have liked the anti-homophobia video to have featured star players setting an example to fans in confronting homophobia. "Sadly the FA never seriously attempted to get top players to participate."

So instead Ogilvy went with a script that shows an angry young man verbally abusing people in various working environments, and then finally on the terraces. The young man is not challenged by those around him in the work place or at the game. John Amaechi, the gay former NBA basketball player, has been close to the FA project but isn't impressed with the film. He says the verbal anti-gay tirade "made my eyes water".

The ad, he says, will be "roundly perceived as a deeply offensive 'shock' advert that uses every slur available to defame LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people with no apparent on-screen fallout. I will not be surprised when some people take the ad as a guide to new, colourful, homophobic insults."

Now the ad may not be shown at all. Had footballers taken part in the project, they might have helped to move their image in a more positive direction, I'd say.

But Amaechi points out in a blog that is damning of the FA's wider work in fighting prejudice in the game that the brief for the advert pointed out that it was "explicitly not designed to encourage players to come out."

I suspect that from the outset the FA assumed that players would not want to go near this film in case their own sexuality was called into question. Just the latest of so many own goals by the once beautiful game.

Jonathan Ross and the BBC - how it went sour

Posted by Ian Burrell
  • Thursday, 7 January 2010 at 11:05 am

So the BBC is to be free of Jonathan Ross. The corporation's best-paid presenter, on a salary package of £18m over three years, announced this morning that he would be quitting the organisation after 13 years service.

In a statement, he said: "Although I have had a wonderful time working for the BBC, and am very proud of the shows I have made while there, over the last two weeks I have decided not to re-negotiate when my current contract comes to an end."

For many at the BBC that will come as a great relief. Ross has become a lightning conductor for the BBC's critics, a highly-visible symbol of the corporation's perceived failings.

His pay package has come to represent the image of a bloated, publicly-funded organisation, at a time when the rest of the media industry, indeed the rest of the British economy is struggling. His humour - including the outrageous phone bullying of actor Andrew Sachs when Ross was a guest on Russell Brand's BBC radio show - has been highlighted as an indication of falling standards at the corporation. The broadcasting environment that has emerged after the backlash to that particular episode is markedly different. It has stifled the creative output of the BBC to a point where some bonafide comedians now claim that their working conditions are impossible.

Ross, though he rarely gives interviews himself, constantly uses the microblogging site Twitter, scaring the life out of BBC managers with comments such as the recent description of some BBC programmes as "shite".

His vast Twitter following, his widely-admired show on Radio 2 and his position as the BBC's premier chat show host are all evidence of his skill as a broadcaster and his popularity.

But in recent weeks, the relationship between Ross and the BBC has become increasingly strained as the corporation attempts to renegotiate expensive contracts with its top talent in the face of criticism that its excessive salaries are distorting the market and wasting public money. Rumours began circulating in the industry that Ross was being asked to take a 50% pay cut, although I understand a deal was never actually put on the table.

Since the "Sachsgate" episode the BBC has faced demands for Ross to be sacked, with right-wing commentators including the Daily Mail and the former Daily Telegraph editor Charles Moore being especially vociferous. BBC senior managers, still widely criticised for being cowed in the wake of the Hutton affair, have been keen to stand up to such pressure.

But now Ross has made the decision for them, realising that whatever new deal he might have struck would have antagonised the likes of the Mail. Some senior BBC executives accepted that logic, I am told.

In his statement, Ross said: "I would like to make it perfectly clear that no negotiations ever took place and that my decision is not financially motivated. I signed my current contract with the BBC having turned down more lucrative offers from other channels because it was where I wanted to be and - as I have said before - would happily have stayed there for any fee they cared to offer, but there were other considerations."

The presenter will still have a relationship with the BBC, working on one-off projects such as the BAFTA Film Awards and Comic Relief.
But we can assume that Ross, 49, will now be speaking to commercial broadcasters, though none is likely in the current climate to be in a position to give him the "more lucrative offers" that he says were once dangled before him.

The Sun and Anjem Choudary

Posted by Ian Burrell
  • Tuesday, 5 January 2010 at 12:46 pm

"Lock him up" shouts a headline on the front page of today's Sun, a story backed up by a leader that claims "Muslim rabble-rouser Anjem Choudary MUST be stopped."

So why then is the paper's page seven coverage of the "Hate Preacher" based around an interview that Choudary conducted with the paper's online radio station SunTalk. The Sun gives someone who Mehdi Hassan of the New Statesman calls "a publicity-seeking extremist windbag" a platform on one medium and calls for him to be silenced in another. Double standards because, of course, Choudary is a bogeyman who gives The Sun the kind of copy it loves.

Cameron as Gorbachev?

Posted by Ian Burrell
  • Tuesday, 5 January 2010 at 10:39 am

When I wrote in the paper this morning about reaction to the new Conservative poster campaign and its use of a giant picture of David Cameron as the central message, I referred to a comment made by the Channel 4 News political editor Gary Gibbon, who said such a personality-led approach reminded him of the marketing of the Politburo.

I'm reminded by an Independent reader this morning that Gibbon's comment was perhaps even more apposite than he realised. The accompanying words on the poster - "We can't go on like this" - mirror the "We can't go on living like this" expression used by Mikhail Gorbachev in 1986 when he set out the philosophy of perestroika which, three years later, had transformed the Soviet Union.

It would be naive to think that Conservative Central Office were unaware of this, particularly as former advertising executive turned Cameroonian strategist Steve Hilton has played such a key role in the new campaign.

Career Women Make Bad Mothers

Posted by Ian Burrell
  • Monday, 4 January 2010 at 02:48 pm

That caught your attention. Which is exactly the thinking of the Outdoor Advertising Association, which is using the 'Career Women Make Bad Mothers' slogan to convince the public of the power of poster ads.

So the controversial - some might say downright offensive - statement will be glued to the side of double-decker buses and across more than 11,000 billboard sites. It will be like being chased around town by a mob of Daily Mail readers. The outdoor advertising sector must be in a bad way.

The ads were created by Beta, an agency run by Garry Lace (who is, shall we say, one of the more colourful figures in adland). The campaign also contains the line  '1966 - it won't happen this year'. Now you're really starting to make me angry.

Big Macs on Coronation Street?

Posted by Ian Burrell
  • Monday, 4 January 2010 at 02:05 pm
Hide behind the sofa now. Doctors are voicing their concern that Government plans to allow broadcasters to use product placement will put us at risk of being exposed to marketing for unhealthy foods and alcohol.

It seems the British Medical Association, which has written a letter of complaint to the Department of Culture, Media & Sport, and the bookies are perfectly in tune on which brands will see the benefit of appearing in an episode of a top soap.

Paddy Power has installed McDonald's as 2-1 favourite to be the first product to be placed, just ahead of rival Burger King (9-4). The same bookies agree that the booze merchants will be as keen as the peddlers of fast food to get their product on show, and Carling and Guinness are grouped at 3-1.

But should we be so worried? Let's not forget that soap operas began in the US as a vehicle for soap manufacturers to market their wares to a mass audience. Yes, we like to think we have higher broadcasting standards over here but it's rare to see a guest on a British talk show these days who doesn't effectively product place a forthcoming show, book or DVD.

Product placement could bring the ailing commercial broadcasting sector an additional £140m a year so let's not claim, in this modern media age, that the mere sight of instantly-recognisable High Street brands such as the Golden Arches or Pizza Hut are going to corrupt a future generation just because they appear in Weatherfield or Walford.

Dead journalists, who cares?

Posted by Ian Burrell
  • Tuesday, 1 December 2009 at 10:28 am
The World Association of Newspapers today opened its annual summit with a moment of silence for the 30 journalists murdered in the Philippines in what has been described as the worst attack on the media in history.

The association's president, Gavin O'Reilly, who is also chief executive of Independent News & Media (owners of The Independent), described the atrocity - which claimed 57 lives in total - as "an act of savagery that has written one of the blackest pages in the history of the world's press".

In Manila yesterday, hundreds of journalists and human activists marched on the presidential palace to protest at the massacre, which is being linked to a clan feud and forthcoming elections in the south of the country.

Yet outside of the Philippines, the story has been under-reported by the world's media. Alan Davis, of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, who visited the scene of the killings, tells me that the "only international team I saw there was Al-Jazeera". He wondered aloud whether the story would have received more attention if it had been Twittered by Stephen Fry.

Davis sent me a picture of one of the bodies of the victims of the massacre being scooped up with a pile of earth in the bucket of a JCB digger. Although the south of the Philippines is a dangerous place for journalists, the British media could have done more to highlight this outrage. "Even given the cutbacks it has not been the greatest to say the least," says Davis. "I can't help thinking that there is a sub-conscious feeling of 'It's only the Philippines'."


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