28 OCTOBER 2000, Page 40


Hard news, soft porn and the feeble-minded hypocrisy of the News of the World


Another Sunday, another News of the World, another fallen worthy. I realised when I skimmed the story about Richard Holme that I was so inured to these things that I no longer knew what I thought. Or, to be more precise, I no longer thought. The head goes in the guillotine, the blade comes down, the head comes off. I'd for- gotten who was guilty and who was not. It had just become a spectacle.

The facts, for those who have not read them, are these: Lord Holme has been mar- ried for 42 years. He was, until the story appeared, chairman of the Broadcasting Standards Commission. In this role he had more say than most of us as to what sort of sex we should watch on television. He has stated on one occasion that it is acceptable to show consensual sex 'as long as it's after the watershed and is not glamourised or way out'.

The News of the World discovered that Lord Holme has had two mistresses on the go. Since he is 64, this fact alone may give some much-needed encouragement to older men. However, that was not the line the newspaper took. It affected to be greatly exercised by Lord Holme's extra- marital excursions. In particular, it was appalled, or pretended to be, that one of the relationships had involved a 'Wind in the Willows, Toad of Toad Hall fantasy'. There was also a touch of spanking, and Lord Holme was said to have made two telephone calls to a hotline run by Skin Two, a magazine for people who like bondage and corporal punishment. One has heard of worse perversions, and the Wind in the Willows stuff is in a way rather sweet and touching and quintessen- tially English. If Lord Holme were an American, he would probably have insist- ed on being wrapped in chains and having some horrible implement put up his back- side. But because he is English, he makes do with Mr Toad, possibly making 'brmm, brmm' noises as he races round the bed- room.

The News of the World, however, was not softened, nor was its sense of humour touched. In a characteristically stern lead- er it accused Lord Holme of double stan- dards — the usual charge. 'He must not lecture us about morals while behaving immorally,' the paper thundered. It all seems superficially plausible. Practise what you preach. Yet the truth is, I strongly suspect, that Lord Holme has not gone in for an awful lot of preaching. And I challenge the News of the World to pro- duce a single shred of evidence which sug- gests that his cavorting with mistresses has had the tiniest influence on sexual stan- dards in television.

Those standards are low and getting lower. Channel 5 thoughtfully caters for lager-drinking youths after they have stumbled home from the pub and col- lapsed on their sofas. Almost every night it pumps out programmes about lap-danc- ing or prostitution, or runs a low-budget soft-porn film. The mainspring behind these films is not David Elstein, the chief executive of Channel 5, though he man- fully keeps the ball rolling. According to a recent biography, Greg Dyke, now direc- tor-general of the BBC, is responsible more than anyone else for the soft-porn output of Channel 5, of which he was the prime mover. Perhaps he will transfer some of his valuable knowhow to the BBC, though our public-service broad- caster is already pretty well schooled in sex and violence. Then there is BSkyB, controlled by Rupert Murdoch, proprietor of the News of the World. I am not a sub- scriber, but friends tell me that Rupe beams out more than his fair share of seedy, and often violent programmes to elevate the minds of our youth.

So what is Lord Holme in all this? Noth- ing at all. I don't want to sound like a revivalist preacher, but we already inhabit a fallen world. We have no standards to speak of. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the News of the World, which claims to have 12 million readers, more than a quarter of the adult population of this country. This supposedly high-minded defender of public morality is in fact a titil- lating, voyeuristic den of vice. Talk about double standards! In the same issue that convicts Lord Holme of dodgy sexual prac- tices we have: (1) A photograph of 'TV beauty Lisa' in seductive pose accompa- nied by her account of her sexual passion for 'skinny Royle Family star Ralf Little'. (2) A titillating photograph of the film star Anna Friel fiddling with her suspender belt. (3) A story about the love-life of pop star Mick Hucknall, who has an extreme, possibly pathological, weakness for lap- dancers. (4) A ho-ho, nudge-nudge piece about the frenzied love-life of 'pin-up star Jordan', who makes poor old Lord Holme with his two mistresses look positively comatose. (5) A collection of advertise- ments for sex chatlines. Lord Holme's Skin Two is, sadly, not included, but you can ring Phone Club, Chatworld or Talk Line and exchange sexual banter with people you have never met. The charges that the News of the World makes against Lord Holme could be made with far greater plausibility against itself. The paper really does go in for preaching in a big way. It does set itself up as a moral arbiter. And, in the same breath that it denounces Lord Holme or some other hapless victim, it pokes you in the ribs and asks you into its own parlour, which is strewn with semi-pornographic photos of tacky people and admiring pieces about their energetic sex lives. It is hypocrisy on a vast scale. And we might add, while we are in this mood of evening up the scores, of trying to be fair to both sides, that the people responsible for this mind-boggling brew are themselves about as far from being moral giants as it is pos- sible to be. Rebekah Wade, the lovely pre-Raphaelite editor of the News of the World, lives with, but is not married to, a soap star called Ross Kemp. I have to tell you, Rebekah, that the Roman Catholic Church and even our own Church of Eng- land are, strictly speaking, not in favour of that sort of thing. As for your proprietor, Mr Murdoch, he almost certainly commit- ted adultery with Wendy Deng while still married to his former wife, Anna. The man has been divorced two times. Of all the people in the world I can hardly think of two less qualified than Rebekah and Rupert to harangue us from the pulpit about morality and sex. I'll take it from the Archbishop of Canterbury, should he ever care to speak on the subject, but not from them.

Let's just say this about Lord Holme. It can scarcely be denied that be does not seem to have been perfectly fitted for the job of chairman of the Broadcasting Stan- dards Commission. But Lord Holme is not an enemy of the people or a corrupter of public morals; and, as hypocrites go, he is definitely small-time. Such moral damage as he did do was not to us — there was none — but to his wife, maybe his children, possibly his mistresses, and certainly to himself.