Desmond Nazi jibe may be a ploy that will yet misfire

The past week in media was in danger of turning into a drunken evening down at the 19th hole of a provincial golf club, writes Ian Darby.

First, Big Ron Atkinson voices his racist views and loses his job at ITV. Then Northern & Shell's owner, Richard Desmond, chips in with his Basil-Fawlty-on-speed impression during a meeting with Telegraph Group executives.

But Big Ron, despite his emergence as a bigoted oaf, is more of a Corporal Jones than Colonel Kurtz. Bumbling and out of touch, perhaps, but clearly clueless in his motives, seeing as his remarks cost him two lucrative jobs (his weekly column in The Guardian was also axed).

Desmond, on the other hand, is obviously more Machiavellian. As pundits at the Financial Times and The Guardian have already indicated, his tirade against the Telegraph Group chief executive, Jeremy Deedes (he is said to have labelled all Germans as Nazis), smacked of being pre-planned.

While the pious Guardian has already written a leader branding Desmond a "bad man" and arguing that he should step down, he has since said that he has nothing against Axel Springer, the German newspaper group and a potential owner of Telegraph Group. But he undoubtedly sent a clear message that whoever outbids him for The Telegraph (Northern & Shell pulled out as the cost spiralled) will have to work with him through his joint ownership of the Telegraph Group's printing works West Ferry.

Desmond's performance may not just put off the German bidder but others too and may even have been calculated to drive down the asking price for The Telegraph. Especially as Desmond chucked in abuse of Telegraph Group executives for having sat by while Lord Black allegedly mismanaged the company.

Will Desmond's racist remarks have a negative impact on his newspapers and their advertising revenues? Express Newspapers sources play the likely effects down, arguing that both readers and commercial partners know that the titles have a "maverick" owner.

And agencies are hard-nosed about such matters. As long as there is a sound commercial reason for using the titles (and the Express and especially the Daily Star are holding their own), then they will continue to do so.

One press director says: "The general reader doesn't give a toss about this sort of thing. It's very media-centric, with us in the business reading the stories and discussing them. Will it stop clients spending? None of my clients has even phoned up to mention it."

But agencies with German clients may be less certain about future levels of spend with Express Newspapers. Desmond's biggest loss, however, is any remaining hope of being respected by the political establishment. The pornographer has become the "racist pornographer" and even the Tory Party has distanced itself.

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