One with hair, the other without. Same rimless glasses, though; same reading from a lengthy, prepared statement in a camera-friendly room with just the one, ambient colour. Blue/Grey. Leveson/Pollard. Leveson-Blue/Pollard-Grey. Following publication of Lord Justice Leveson’s report on the ‘culture, ethics and practices’ of the British press (29th November), on 19th December Nick Pollard presented his findings on the culture, ethics and practices of Newsnight and the BBC, beginning with (then) programme editor Peter Rippon’s decision not to run the story exposing TV personality Jimmy Savile as a pervert. In less than three weeks, first Leveson and now Pollard have lined up to diagnose the failure of journalism’s ‘management systems’. Their accents are different (North v South); and their provenance (high court judge v television news editor); so too are the objects of their attention (privately owned newspapers v public service broadcasting). Nonetheless, the two pontiffs share the same priority: management systems must be managed better. Managers managing management – that’s their solution. Journalists thinking independently; using their own judgement – anyone?
When the court rises at 5pm, a fourth camera shows the whole room: rows of desks, cupboards and computer monitors; all comfortably integrated into a bland interior. But during the proceedings, we have been receiving pictures from three, other cameras, each of which is trained like a spotlight on a different section of the room. Each section of the chamber has its own protagonist – a judge, a barrister, a series of witnesses; but their respective ‘spots’ are so varied that these actors could be playing entirely different scenes, instead of complementary aspects of the same courtroom drama. Scene 1 The Control Centre: Lord Leveson is tightly shot, framed by blue curtains, wooden desk, and a high-backed, matt-black chair. Domed head and no legs visible, he resembles the crippled comic strip character, the Mekon, at the controls of a levitating stairlift. But Leveson’s voice is just Northern enough to make his received pronunciation sound like suburban social climbing: more Didsbury than Dan Dare. Scene 2 The Forest: Green, yellow and brown (suit, tie, hair); olive tints, and is that a dash of paprika in his beard? Colourful Robert Jay QC appears before a lush background made up of other people; functionaries of the court, but people nonetheless. Nestling in all this warmth and greenery, the answers he draws out from witnesses are like long filaments of chlorophyll. Scene 3 Forensics: He’s sitting down but the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport still looks splayed out against the plain white wall behind him. Plain white light bounces off the wall, reddening his cheeks and forehead, making him appear feverish, alarmed. Now that the third camera is depicting Jeremy Hunt, are we looking at the infamous mugshot of the defendant – the one the police always take when the suspect is first brought into the station? Or are we already in the mortuary, with the body of the late cabinet minister laid out on a slab?
Two former pupils who got in to Oxford and Cambridge, invited back to school to present prizes at Speech Day. That’s what it looked like. It was a kind of Speech Day; but not back to school. Instead the whole country, represented by the workforce of CNH Tractors in Basildon, Essex, was being schooled by Nick (Clegg, Liberal Democrat, deputy prime minister) and Dave (Cameron, Conservative, prime minister) on the Merits of the Coalition. After their political parties polled poorly in last week’s local elections, the Coalition leaders travelled to Essex to lecture us all on why they’re right and we’re wrong not to see it that way. Mouth composed into a perfect ‘O’, Cameron made his choirboy face, then shifted to his other persona: he-man of the jutting jaw. Either way, Clegg looked on incredulously. Later, when it was Clegg’s turn to do the talking, Cameron looked up at him, head drawn back at a slight angle: ‘Y’what?’ Of course the whole thing was a photo/podcast/rolling news opportunity. So well designed, right down to the colour scheme. Cameron wearing a blue tie, Clegg yellow. Some of the tractor factory workers were dressed in blue polo shirts; others yellow. You couldn’t ask for a closer match. However well-designed, though, there’s no hiding how the two boys are coming apart. Nothing in the orchestration of the event could drown out the discord between them. And here are some more entries which I prepared earlier.
(1) Royal Preserve Dateline: 2nd March 2012
Halfway between a wave and the brush-off, Prince Harry gestures to Caribbean photographers at the start of his first solo tour. He is ginger and slightly gauche. Back in London his grandmother, the elderly Queen Elizabeth, looks quizzically at the food hamper produced by Fortnum and Mason to mark her Diamond Jubilee (1952-2012). Nestling among the preserves, 60 years of judgment reserved.