Newspaper review: Beyonce and Kim Jong-un make headlines
- 14 December 2013
Saturday's front pages are a real mixture, but inside, the contrasting faces of Beyonce and Kim Jong-un appear widely.
The Daily Telegraph has the first interview with Claire Blackman, defending her husband Alexander after he was jailed for life for killing a wounded Taliban insurgent.
He acted in "the madness of the moment" she says, of the man previously known as Marine A.
Elsewhere, there is both downbeat and upbeat news on the NHS - the i says the anticipated winter A&E crisis has already begun, while the Guardian reports that weekend care is set to improve under a new £2bn plan.
The Daily Express says Prince Harry looked "suitably Yeti-like" as he arrived at the South Pole alongside his Walking with the Wounded team-mates. "But though he was a snowman after his charitable endeavours, nobody could call him an abominable one," it adds, slightly bizarrely.
The Times is impressed with the achievement but disappointed that bad weather ended the competitive element of the trek. Referring to fellow walkers - and actors - Dominic West and Alexander Skarsgard, it laments: "The world will never know if Prince Harry would have got to the South Pole before McNulty from The Wire or the Viking vampire from True Blood."
There is shock in every paper at the execution of Jang Song-thaek in North Korea at the behest of his nephew - the country's leader - Kim Jong-un. Many say commentators will view it as a sign the regime is under stress, but virtually all agree those commentators would be wrong.
The Independent says "the biggest single fact... and an extremely uncomfortable reality for Western observers and critics of the regime - is that the Kim family is astonishingly popular." It adds: "They [the Korean people] genuinely believe that American 'imperialist dogs' are conspiring to destroy them and that their country is the greatest in the world."
Guy Walters, writing in the Daily Mail, agrees Kim Jong-un is successfully "creating the spectres of enemies within" - his uncle - as well as without - the US - in order to stay in power. Indeed, "the best enemies for him to choose to vilify are those closest to him... because this gives the public the impression that the enemy is very capable and dangerous."
The Times too thinks it "barely credible" to suggest that with the execution, Kim Jong-un will loosen the regime's "tyranny" because he feels his position is more secure. Instead, the West should see him as "what he appears to be: a murderous thug lashing out at potential rivals and attempting to pin on them the blame for the catastrophic state of the country's economy".
Former UK ambassador to North Korea John Everard, in the Daily Telegraph, is one of a number of writers who think only China stands any chance of exerting influence over Pyongyang. But while traditionally described as North Korea's only ally, the latest execution is, Mr Everard writes, "a slap in the face for China". "Beijing regarded Jang as its main friend at the court of Kim. Its stunned silence at the news of his removal, followed by a terse statement that this was North Korea's internal affair, speaks volumes."
Given that slap, the Daily Mirror writes: "The key question is how long will China tolerate a lunatic on its doorstep."
Finally, moving the focus away from just this execution, the Guardian makes the point that Jang Song-thaek is merely the most high profile victim among "countless compatriots" killed by the regime. It describes it as having a significant "terror infrastructure", at the heart of which are a network of gulags.
"A brilliant stroke of PR," says the Daily Mirror of Beyonce's decision to release a surprise album exclusively via iTunes.
All the papers seem to agree on that much, but they're conflicted over whether the album and accompanying videos show the singer to be a feminist icon or a booty-shaking victim of the music industry's obsession with sex.
The Daily Star says she plays a "showgirl" in one video, while another, called Pretty Hurts, is an "anthemic curtain raiser about self empowerment".
The Sun describes Rocket as "one of the many X-rated tracks on the album", but agrees that Pretty Hurts "is a girl-power anthem".
Andy Gill, in his review for the Independent, says Pretty Hurts is "a noble attempt to boost female morale.... yet the rest is an unashamed celebration of the physical virtues, and ultimate fulfilment of sexuality they inevitably bring".
No such equivocation in the Daily Mail, with its headline "Beyonce backlash". "Within hours, hundreds of fans slammed the star's record for its X-rated lyrics and 'pornographic' videos," it reports. Vivienne Pattison, of Mediawatch-UK, says Beyonce is a role model "and she needs to take responsibility for that".
Discussing the papers for the BBC's News Channel, Westminster editor of the Daily Record Torcuil Crichton said it was no surprise to see the Times reveal that Universities UK (UUK) had "folded" over its policy of allowing the segregation of men and women at certain Islamic events.
"It's an interesting ethical argument," he said, "You get religious freedom... but when that comes up against social values and social laws and the law of the land, for example on equality, something has to give and usually it's the religion."
Broadcaster and campaigner David Akinsanya agreed the policy had to be "quashed", but added: "There are other areas within society where people are being segregated, within different communities in the country."
The Sun says Britain's universities have long been "the standard-bearers for free speech" - something that has only been achieved "by sticking rigidly to the principle of equality, irrespective of gender, race or religion".
Linking the situation to that in South Africa, Graeme Archer, in the Daily Telegraph, says UUK "has given succour to injustice merchants whose politics are just as wicked as those who devised race-based apartheid".
Lastly, in the Times itself, Janice Turner says the UUK ruling may have been defeated, "but the challenges to secular principles that enshrine equality will go on". Gender segregation, the veiling of women, the push for sharia, all demonstrate, she writes, that "gender apartheid is not a sideshow of radical Islam, but intrinsic to it."
Time to say goodbye
On Sunday, the eyes of the world will be on a tent in the remote village of Qunu, South Africa, where the nation's favourite son will be buried.
The Independent's Kim Sengupta says there are mixed feeling there, with some "humbler citizens" saying they feel "excluded" in favour of dignitaries. Others, he reports, worry "about the long-term welfare of the residents" who lacked healthcare and education even as the birthplace of the nation's founder, so "with Mr Mandela gone, there were fears it would be forgotten by the government".
The Guardian, however, finds one man happy to be involved. 20-year-old Khumbuzile Gubenani tells the paper he is working on the funeral tent for £7 a day "but would gladly have done it for nothing because 'this is happening for the first time and the last time'".
Other papers choose different Mandela angles to take on Saturday.
The Financial Times puts a very positive gloss on the much maligned memorial service that took place earlier this week. It "was not beautiful the way a work of art is beautiful. It was a fitting tribute to a moral giant and to South African democracy: raucous, rough and full and life."
Much less positive, however, is the Daily Mail, which devotes its entire editorial to criticism of the BBC coverage of Mr Mandela's death. It accuses the corporation of using Mandela "as a mere peg on which to hang its own liberal conscience and prejudices: Left-wing, good; Right-wing, bad; black Africa, noble; British empire, evil." The paper also feels the BBC has ignored the contribution of Margaret Thatcher in bringing about "South Africa's peaceful transition to majority rule".
The Sun isn't worried about the closure of the first free school due to poor teaching standards.
It's "an embarrassment", but "despite the crowing from the Left", it says, "parents love them" and three-quarters of the 170 opened so far are rated good or outstanding. "Doesn't sound much like failure, does it," the editorial adds.
The Daily Telegraph, though, is angry that Education Secretary Michael Gove has blocked the expansion of a grammar school in Sevenoaks, Kent. It says the decision "runs counter to the governments's own commitment to foster excellence and choice in education", and its editorial adds: "These schools are dynamic motors of social mobility."
Making people click
Daily Telegraph - Nelson Mandela memorial interpreter 'was a fake'
Times - Kick open the doors to private education
Guardian - Uruguay's president José Mujica: no palace, no motorcade, no frills
Independent - Humans are not smarter than animals - we just don't understand them