Alan Rusbridger

Diary - 3 May 2003

The editor of the Guardian explains how George Galloway has made lots of new friends

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This is not a statement that will wring many heart-strings, but if there's one group of professionals which has been a bit down-at-heel in recent months it's libel lawyers. For a variety of reasons – Jeffrey Archer languishing in jail among them – there has not been a queue of claimants outside the Inns of Court waiting to consult eminent practitioners in the black arts of defamation. So the impending case of Galloway v. Moore has put a spring in the step of m'learned friends. For a while it had looked as though we would never again see a titanic High Court slugging match between two veteran pugilists. And now we've got one. Doubtless there is some spread-betting site somewhere on the Internet offering odds on the forthcoming encounter. Nothing in libel is simple, far less certain. The late George Carman was by no means the only defamation silk to have conjured eleventh-hour rabbits out of hitherto invisible hats. But, if forced to put my money on one of the old bruisers, I think it would be on a points victory by Moore. Gorgeous George may have won a lot of scraps in the past, but he's a busy chap and has perhaps not had time to keep abreast of the interesting changes in the libel law over the past couple of years. In particular, the judgment of Lord Nicholls in the case Albert Reynolds brought against the Sunday Times may have escaped him. That judgment – though still in its early days of development – seems to give newspapers a measure of protection when writing about matters which are clearly in the public interest so long as they can prove that they've behaved reasonably. So if a particular story proves to be untrue, the newspaper can still win if it can show it has stuck by a number of rules, including publishing the other side of the story and framing the charges in a suitable tone. The Galloway documents – unless they turn out to have been forged – plainly raised prima-facie matters of importance. Any editor worth his or her salt would have published them. So the main question at trial may simply concern the manner in which the Telegraph published them. The Telegraph is not on rock-solid ground here. The long editorial it published on the first day was particularly ill-advised, making gleeful political capital out of the charges, accusing Galloway of treason and mildly regretting that the death penalty was no longer available for behaviour of this nature. If it transpires that the MP never took any money personally, then the editorial may prove to be the paper's undoing. But, on the face of it, the paper's correspondent, David Blair, did what any enterprising reporter would have done, and he deserves the protection of the courts for doing it.

The most bizarre and fascinating section in the British press at the moment is the Sunday Express's media pages. They are quite hard to find – buried somewhere between personal finance and property – but they are worth seeking out. Each week there is a rampaging attack on at least two or three rival Fleet Street players. If the pages are to be believed, more or less every newspaper boardroom is in permanent crisis meetings, every editor's head is imminently on the block, and every media company – excepting, naturally, Express Newspapers – is on the verge of bankruptcy. Much of it appears to be written, under one byline or other, by the colourful former Mirror City Slicker Anil Bhoyrul, and very little of it appears to be true. It's possible that the owner of the Express titles, Richard Desmond, has yet to stumble upon these pages, and is unaware of the riot of malice and fiction contained within them. Alternatively, it's always possible that Mr Bhoyrul sits down with Mr Desmond each week and takes down dictation. Whatever the truth, the pages are a little ray of humorous sunshine in what can otherwise be a monochrome world. Long may they last.

The editor of this magazine lives in approximately the same neck of the north London woods as I do, and occasionally I've glimpsed a shock of blond hair wobbling home on a bicycle as I have smugly glided past in my modest family estate. No longer: I've now joined Boris among the cycling classes and, like all converts, have become a bit of a bore on the subject. Colleagues in the lift, eyeing up my ludicrous Day-Glo garb (including the latest fluorescent yellow Pro-Gel fitness gloves), now know better than to ask. Too many have been caught by my standard patter: how much time it's shaved off my journey in the morning, how much fitter I feel, how much I've saved on congestion charges, and the best cycle routes between Kentish Town and Farringdon Road. But it's all true. A journey which was taking anything up to 40 minutes in the car now usually takes me 18 minutes, with a 16 minutes PB (personal best). I've discovered the joys of endorphins after years of sneering at anyone who even mentioned exercise. I've saved about £150 in congestion charges. And I have accumulated a prized collection of maps and bookmarked cyclists' websites to plot my journeys around town. One or two pedants have pointed out that the journey from Kentish Town is substantially downhill and that it has been known for me to put my folding bike into a cab for the return journey (well, OK, most days). But even Paula Radcliffe had to start somewhere.

I've no idea how the pooling arrangements for war correspondents were settled, so it's difficult to know whether it was random chance or an inspired joke that led to the Guardian's Audrey Gillan being 'embedded' with the Household Cavalry. The men of D Squadron the Blues and Royals melted the ice by greeting her with a picture of the Queen, and from then on it all went swimmingly. She loved them, and pretty soon the Guardian, with her daily dispatches, was on the official recommended reading-list for past and present Household Cavalrymen. It is even said that a special scrapbook of Audrey's cuttings on the squadron's exploits in Iraq is being prepared for the colonel-in-chief of the Blues and Royals. I can't think how she missed them.

Jerry Springer – the Opera: on all accounts see it. Unless a) you have never heard of Jerry Springer, or b) you have an aversion to extremely filthy language. In which case, on no account see it.

Alan Rusbridger is editor of the Guardian.