Watching brief - Amanda Platell finds Today's audience plunging

The Today programme has lost 150,000 listeners since the Hutton inquiry. One reason is the double ac

Whither the Today programme? There are certainly early signs that it's withering on the radio vine, with the loss of 150,000 listeners since the Hutton inquiry's damning and damnably unfair findings.

Listeners have detected a lack of confidence since that public flogging by the ridiculous Lord Hutton. There is less humour - of which there was precious little to begin with - and less spontaneity. It feels heavily scripted, with a reluctance to divert from the plan.

Yet something more fundamental is going on: a slow but seismic change in attitudes towards our premier radio news show. For a few, it is no longer essential listening.

This is partly to do with the tremendous improvement of Radio 5 Live and the real alternatives now available - provided you are listening at home - on BBC1's Breakfast, Sky News and BBC News 24. These are ever-developing competitors where once there was none.

Part of the problem on Today is that you can never be sure just who you are getting when you turn on the show, as I do at 6am each day. Will it be the dream combo of John Humphrys and Jim Naughtie, or will it be a Sarah Montague or Ed Stourton mixture? It's too rare these days that we wake up to the marvellous Carolyn Quinn. As anyone who regularly listens to the show will know, the presenters all have strengths, but the pairings have varying degrees of chemistry. Some just don't work. It feels like radio by rota, not talent.

And the one thing you can increasingly rely upon with other stations is a regular double act. Radio 5 Live's Breakfast duo Nicky Campbell and Shelagh Fogarty are a terrific team. Campbell gets better every year, and Fogarty's genuine warmth and humour are just what you need in the morning. It's no wonder Today is losing listeners and Breakfast is gaining them - 45,000 year on year.

Today will be a hard habit to break. But it must move on from these troubled times. You've been rightly cleared of all charges since the disgraceful Hutton inquiry. It's time to get the fire back in your belly, or the government will have won after all.

The Daily Mirror defence of the Iraq torture pictures has taken a new twist. First they were absolutely genuine - honest, guv. Then Mirror journalists were saying off the record that it wasn't a matter of whether they were genuine, but of whether they could be proved to be false. Now it's irrelevant whether they are real or not, as they are "illustrative" of abuses. It may be disingenuous, but as a survival strategy it seems to be working.

On the day after the Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, declared the pictures "fakes" on Channel 4 News, the Mirror devoted an entire leader to a call for his sacking, with no mention of its pictures. The Sun trumpeted Hoon's claim on the front page with "What a truck-up".

The career of the Mirror editor, Piers Morgan, is still in intensive care, but is expected to pull through.

If the Prime Minister reads nothing else, it should be Jackie Ashley's "Why all sorts of women fell out of love with new Labour" in the Guardian.

Ashley gives a thorough and thoughtful account of why women are abandoning Tony Blair. Referring to one group of deserters, the "middles" (middle-aged, middle-class and middling cross), she calls for an end to the government's transparent "bureaucratic bullshit".

"We know how long it takes to get a doctor's appointment and we know that choice in secondary education remains a pipe dream for many," she says.

On the all-male launch of Labour's local election campaign, Ashley observes: "I cannot honestly say I saw a government that had noticed us yet." Mr Blair, you have been warned.

The full extent of Lord Black's corporate corpulence was laid out in glorious colour in both the Independent and the Guardian. Owning only 30 per cent of Hollinger International, parent company of the Telegraph, Black and his associates referred to the business as "their company" and treated it as such. So claims a new £700m lawsuit against him.

As ever, the devilment was in the detail. A $90,000 bill for the refurbishment of Black's 1958 Rolls-Royce; and his wife Barbara Amiel allegedly charged to the company a tip she paid to the doorman of Bergdorf Goodman. The problem with these newspaper types is, once they're in power for a while, they think the world owes them not just a living but a lifestyle. They run the joint, so they want to be treated as though they own it, too.

I have seen newspaper bosses who think it is perfectly reasonable for the company to provide transport, of the chauffeur-driven variety, for their wives, mistresses and offspring from any number of relationships, while cutting the costs of the journalists at every possible opportunity.

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