From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

News v Fairfax: now it’s war. “Toxic” is the word one media player used to describe the relationship between News Limited and Fairfax after the latter’s Australian Financial Review dumped on its rival in a series of reports on pay TV piracy. And we hear it might be getting personal in the upper echelons of both companies. There was a time when the companies were talking about sharing printing facilities — you can be sure they won’t be talking formally about anything else any time soon.

Mystery MP says mystery rumours a mystery. “Rumours hurt the innocent,” writes Daily Telegraph columnist Piers Akerman today. So he decided to get to the bottom of it:

Since last September, at least, there has been a pretty bitchy snippet doing the rounds that makes the claim that a federal minister has fathered an illegitimate child by a staff member.

During Tuesday’s budget lockup I had the opportunity to sit down with the minister concerned.

We have known each other for close on 10 years, well enough to have Sunday lunch with mutual friends, well enough to attend the footy in company, and well enough to talk quite frankly about relationships.

I asked him about the rumour and it was immediately clear that it distressed him as he pulled his chair closer and told me of the distress it had caused his wife.

According to most versions of the rumour, she has left the family home and is with her mother.

Not so, he said, she is at their home in the electorate.

I have no reason to disbelieve his total dismissal of the rumour about his extramarital affair but the damage is clearly hurtful — and it would be to anyone.

So which minister might that be? The same one, presumably, we’ve previously mentioned as the target of vicious rumour-mongering (we got yet another email today). I guess we now have it from the horse’s mouth.

Melba hits back for classic music funds. Classical music specialists Melba Recordings has copped quite a bit of flak in arts circle — as Ben Eltham explained recently in Crikey — for the very big cheques it receives from taxpayers and the very small audiences that enjoy its albums. Barry Tuckwell, chairman of the Melba Foundation, is not taking this lying down. He dispatched this email to supporters recently:

“As a Melba supporter you will be aware that the future of government funding of the Foundation is uncertain. Many of you have written letters to the minister, Mr Simon Crean, supporting our case for continued government support. Thank you.

“There has been a lot written about Melba and our funding in the specialist art and music publications and newspapers. Much of it has been ill informed, with prominence given to those critics who feel that our funding has somehow reduced theirs or that we have bypassed the proper Australia Council for the Arts channels. These criticisms are unfounded and untrue.

“As former arts minister, Rod Kemp, has said over and again Melba’s funding was not a slice from a finite pie. There has always been as much money available for the arts as the government can be convinced to spend.

“Melba put up a convincing case and was persuasive. It was open to any other record company to do the same. The use of the government money has been assiduously supervised and audited by the Australia Council for the Arts. Melba is subjected to numerous and regular audits. We have performance targets that must be met. We work with the Council to improve our management and performance at every level …”

Meanwhile, look out for more criticism in The Sunday Age this weekend. We hear artists have been talking to the paper about their dealings with the recording studio.

Who’ll wave the baton for Sydney Symphony? Still on the stage: who will be named the Sydney Symphony’s next chief conductor and artistic director to replace Vladimir Ashkenazy? Arts circles are buzzing. The organisation has called a press conference to announce the appointment at the Opera House on Tuesday morning.

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