Raymond Snoddy on Media: Mail on Sunday has hit purple patch

A few words of praise would surely be appropriate this week for a remarkable publication - The Mail on Sunday.

There is more than a tendency among the liberal intelligentsia of the media to sneer at the Daily Mail group and all its works, whether the criticism is justified or not.

But before throwing any more stones, just take a look at Sunday's front page.

The top half was devoted to one of the best newspaper marketing initiatives of recent years - a new Prince album, free for readers in a 'world exclusive'. It takes to a new level the concept of the newspaper as a communications package that can also distribute new entertainment, and not just the CDs of 60s rock stars that end up in the bin after a single nostalgic play.

The music and newspaper industries are both facing the occasional challenge. Here is a collaboration that should help them. Prince gets a large audience and a fat cheque for his work. The Mail on Sunday is able to increase its print run to a whopping 3m. And as the barriers between sectors come down, HMV admits that it is in the newspaper-selling business after all, if there is a new Prince album attached.

Below the Prince promo was another exclusive - Cherie Blair's adviser Carole Caplin's take on the bizarre world of Alastair Campbell. It's her response to Campbell's self-promoting diaries - interesting rather than explosive.

Then there was the splash - '"Gonzo" BBC Hits Brown' - about yet another BBC cock-up. This time, Newsnight admitted the timing of shots in an unflattering documentary on the working methods of Gordon Brown could mislead viewers.

The activities of the TV broadcasters has turned into a rich vein of material for The Mail on Sunday, which led the way earlier this year in revealing the great telephone quiz scandals. Now all the major terrestrial broadcasters have had to admit to misleading viewers in one form or another.

The phone-in rip-offs verged on fraud, but what we are now seeing is an emerging picture of unacceptable casualness around how certain TV shows are put together, and apparent new levels of tolerance when it comes to cutting corners.

The memo from BBC director-general Mark Thompson to all staff last Friday was almost plaintive. Under the headline 'Recent editorial incidents', Thompson was almost begging staff to confess to any dodgy work over the past few years. What was less clear was what would happen next. Were amnesties being offered? Thompson has to go to the BBC Trust this week to explain the £50,000 Blue Peter fine, the Royal flouncing out that never was, and now the Brown editing. The first step, he argues, 'is to ensure that we know about every problem that's out there'.

The BBC Trust should issue final warnings to all concerned and adopt ITV boss Michael Grade's 'zero tolerance' of all dodgy dealing.

It would be disproportionate if BBC One controller Peter Fincham was made to fall on his sword. He did not knowingly deceive anyone - and the Queen really was grumpy, as the clips made clear. Fincham has, however, got one problem - explaining why there was such a delay before the error was admitted.

Those responsible for promoting programmes have to be brought under full editorial control. In particular, trailers for current-affairs programmes that increasingly end up in the heart of the main news bulletins look like another accident waiting to happen.

Meanwhile, more power to The Mail on Sunday, both in coming up with new ways to sell papers and holding broadcasters to account - remembering always that it has to be squeaky clean itself.


- Prince Rogers Nelson was born on 7 June 1958 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

- His music has spanned styles, from R&B and funk to pop and hip-hop.

- The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame lists his first album as For You, released in 1978. Prince supposedly played all 27 instruments; however, his band said he only knew how to play 25.

- His 1984 album Purple Rain sold more than 13m copies in the US.

- Prince was infamously pelted with rubbish while wearing bikini briefs, leg warmers, high-heeled boots and a trench coat at two Rolling Stones shows in 1981.

- In 1993, he changed his performing name to 'symbol' and was referred to as 'The artist formerly known as Prince'.

- He wrote and performed a song for 2006 film Happy Feet.

- Prince is to play 21 London gigs this summer. The Earth Tour will include seven nights at the O2.


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