Macbeth and the media

Jeremy Gordin asks why all the wrong people have been shafted at the Times Media Group

One movie that had a massive effect on me in my salad days was Roman Polanski's Macbeth, based, obviously, on William "Bill" Shakespeare's The Tragedy of Macbeth about the highland laird who becomes King of Scotland through treachery and murder.

It was 1971, or maybe 72, I was 19 or 20, I had just begun studying English lit at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. When I saw the movie, at some down-at-heel Jerusalem move-house (all Jerusalem movie houses were run down in those days), it was the first time that a Shakespearean text really came alive for me.

You remember? It opens with some poor sod getting his head crushed by a ball-on-a-chain bludgeon while Macbeth intones: "So foul and fair a day I have not seen".

I hadn't thought of the movie for a long, long time and then I encountered the Bullfinch hard by Scusi the other morning and he said: "Did you see what's happened to Bruce [Peter Bruce, the publisher of BDFM - and, as we shall see, the BDFM editor-in-chief and Business Day editor as well]? He's now the Thane of Cawdor, isn't he, and who knows what awaits him?"

Good ol' Bullfinch; he does remember some stuff from his misspent youth, doesn't he? Macbeth was of course the Thane of Glamis and then he became the Thane of Cawdor, because the incumbent had been disloyal to the king.

Those were the good old days - when members of your cabinet screwed around, you didn't have to issue warnings and hold disciplinaries and all that tedious codswallop, you sommer beheaded or hanged them. And then Fate or Kismet or the witches or maybe just his wife whetted Macbeth's appetite and he offs the king. His lust for power, in short, gets the better of him.

And Bullard's words brought back Lady Macbeth thanking Duncan, the king, for his kindness, "... those honours deep and broad wherewith/ Your majesty loads our house ..." and the famous words from the witches: "All hail, Macbeth! hail to thee, Thane of Glamis! / All hail, Macbeth, hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor! / All hail, Macbeth, thou shalt be king hereafter!"

They also reminded me of the following from Anton Harber's site, the Harbinger, on 27 February.

"The milliners, at least, will be celebrating," wrote Harber. "Peter Bruce has emerged from the turmoil in the BDFM group as the wearer of many hats. He is now publisher, editor-in-chief and Business Day editor - an extraordinary breach in newspaper tradition."

You ought to read the whole column (see here); it's very clever. Ostensibly it's about Bruce's new hats and the "breach in newspaper tradition" resulting from Peter the Bruce being both publisher of the BDFM group and editor of BD.

But that's mostly a red herring; the division between editor and publisher, about which Harber dilates in some detail, has long been more observed in the breach than the observance. Certainly, when the Oyrish put their newspapers in Seffrica under the editorial control (though they denied it) of general managers some two decades back, that was it. Cheers, big ears.

It ushered in those situations in which creatures such as Nazeem Howa, former chief operating officer at Independent, and Mike Robertson, now apparently "the publisher" at Times Media, dealt with the quality of the publications under their purview with all the subtlety and care that a coked-up and impecunious pimp might evince in dealing with the hookers he controls.

So, although Harber does natter on about how there is supposed to be a definite split between publisher and editor - something like the split between the executive and the judiciary, if you like - his piece is, in fact, a lengthy rationalization for the fact that Bruce has become Thane of Glamis and Cawdor and Buffelsfontein (for want of a better name).

Bruce, too, has been a smart fellow. He obviously moved fast to explain to Harber the background and context (I'm being polite, you understand) - he clearly spun the story with huge skill - so that it looks as though everything that has happened at Times Media had to happen that way.

But what's not to be found in Harber's version -with its charming jokes about hats and milliners and so on - is a reflection of the pain and anguish suffered by many including, presumably, Barney Mthombothi, editor of the Financial Mail, to Marcia Klein, former editor (well, is she or isn't she?) of Business Times to Ray Hartley, former editor of the Sunday Times.

Now, it could be said - as I suppose Stalin would have said - that you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs. And, given that Bruce is "driving radical change," merging the BD and FM newsrooms, pushing the progress and merger of the online operation, and taking BD to a tabloid size, well, Mthombothi and various others clearly had to go - as Harber explains to us.

But - leaving aside the obvious fact that a business daily such as BD is the last kind of publication that needs to go tabloid (broadsheet or Berliner is just fine for its readers - vide the Financial Times), leaving aside the fact that BD is probably going tabloid because that is what Caxton's Terry Moolman wants for printing reasons, and leaving aside that the merger of the two newsrooms will mean the end of the FM (trust me, I have been through these movies before) - how come the following is not being asked: why have the managers of the operations - to wit, Robertson and hishandlangers and including Bruce to some extent - why have they been sitting with their fingers up their bums for the last five years and mucking about with their circulation figures and advertising discounts, when it has been palpably clear that the dead trees media are in deep doo-doo, that on-line operations are where it's at, that broadsheets are deeply passé, and that a way has to be found to utilize the social media?

In short, all the wrong people are getting it up the wazoo. In tandem with the BDFM saga, Robertson has dumped Hartley and various other good people (e.g. Klein) and put in some pisher (Phylicia Oppelt) whose major contribution to Seffrican journalism has, as far as I can tell, been these whiny pieces bemoaning the state of the nation.

Harber doesn't question any of this. Here's his piece: "Bruce's previous publisher resisted the move to tabloid. He is gone. FM editor Barney Mthombothi resisted the newsroom merger. He is gone. Now the plans can proceed apace, with Bruce unchallenged at the helm."

What caused the removal of the former publisher and Mthombothi? What act of God was this? What force majeure? But the real question (or one of them) is this. What has Bruce's role been in the pummelling and putsches that have taken place at Times Media?

Maybe Harber can offer us a column, answering that question - and, for good measure, he might explain what Robertson is up to and why he's getting away with it. He told us about the fair. Now let's hear about the foul. And Bruce better watch out, methinks, for Birnam Wood making its way to Dunsinane.

Click here to sign up to receive our free daily headline email newsletter