Newspaper headlines: Sony hack row and 'panic Saturday'

The unprecedented pulling of a film from general release after a cyber attack which has been blamed on North Korea is Saturday's biggest story.

The Guardian's headline "Obama's threat to North Korea over Sony hack" shows the political level the affair has reached.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Kim Jong-un is thought to be unhappy at the comedy film which sees him publicly soil himself before dying in an explosion

The US president thinks Sony Pictures made "a mistake" in cancelling the release of The Interview, saying: "We cannot have a society in which some dictator some place can start imposing censorship here in the United States because if somebody is able to intimidate folks out of releasing a satirical movie, imagine what they start doing when they see a documentary that they don't like, or news reports that they don't like.

"Or even worse imagine if producers and distributors and others start engaging in self-censorship because they don't want to offend the sensibilities of somebody whose sensibilities probably need to be offended."

The paper says Mr Obama has vowed to "respond proportionally" against those responsible for the hack.

North Korea denies the FBI's claims that it used malware to leak Sony Pictures' emails in order to stop the comedy, which is based around the assassination of its leader Kim Jong-un.

The Guardian's Jordan Hoffman, who has seen The Interview (twice) says it is: "By and large, a good movie. Is it worth a debilitating corporate hack? No. Worth an international diplomatic earthquake? Certainly not."

The paper's opinion column says, "North Korea's involvement [in the hacking] would... only be a tiny addition to its many crimes. If the regime is a joke, it is a very sick one indeed."

Image copyright AP
Image caption George Clooney

The Times also leads on the story, and notes that George Clooney has emerged as a spokesman for an outraged Hollywood community.

Clooney says The Interview is, "a silly comedy, but the truth is, what it now says about us is a whole lot," the paper says.

The Financial Times says North Korean hackers have gained a "world class reputation".

"The hacking progress comes despite a bar on internet access for nearly all North Koreans, and reflects the state's big investment in the military," the FT adds.

The paper says testimony from defectors suggests the hacking programme is run by the army, who recruit promising young North Koreans at the age of 12 and subject them to "years of training".

Being a state-employed hacker is a dream job, it adds, as it is well-paid by North Korean standards and is a "respected" position.


Cold sweat

Saturday will be "excessmas day", according to the Daily Mirror, which is one of many papers to highlight the fact that Britons are expected to make the day "the busiest shopping day ever".

The paper says an estimated 13m Brits will cram the nation's high streets and malls and they are expected to smash last year's record daily spend of £1.2bn (on 23 December).

Extra security staff have been hired for "Panic Saturday", the Mirror adds, in an attempt to avoid the scuffles that broke out on "Black Friday" when retailers unveiled many bargains.

The paper quotes analyst Martin Cowie as saying, "As we get ready for a frantic last weekend of shopping before Christmas Day, promotional intensity is heating up again.

"We are now seeing an increased level of discounting as retailers try to re-stimulate demand."

Image copyright Thinkstock

The Times notes a CBI survey which found that the number of shopping chains who had recorded increased sales this year was at a 27-year high.

The Independent headlines on a "two nations" divide with the 13m festive shoppers expected to buy £92 of goods each, but an equal number unable to join in the frenzy of consumerism because they are living in poverty, according to the Child Poverty Action Group.

"Inequality in the UK is now so extreme that the five richest families are wealthier than the bottom 20% of the entire population," the paper reports, quoting Oxfam figures.

For those intent on shopping, "Panic Saturday" does not sound a very enticing prospect, according to expert Dave Hobday in the Independent.

"Department stores are magnets for shoppers who find themselves in the last-chance saloon in the final few days before Christmas.

"Many of these 11th-hour shoppers will be breaking into a cold sweat at the thought of heading to the high street on the busiest shopping day of the year and praying for someone to take the pain away."

Cartoonist Matt in the Daily Telegraph sums the mood up - and links in to a story about women being allocated combat roles in the Army.

It depicts a harassed looking male shopper returning home laden with bags, telling his wife, "After a day's shopping I can confirm women are ready to fight on the front line".


'Descent into respectability'

She may not have played the leading role in the Profumo scandal, but the pages of coverage devoted to the death of Mandy Rice-Davies shows what a powerful fascination the affair still holds for the press, 51 years on.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Mandy Rice-Davies in 1963

As the Sun puts it the former actress, model and singer - who has died aged 70 - was "a key figure in the scandal that featured call girls, Soviet spies and high society orgies" and nearly toppled the government.

The paper quotes Ms Rice-Davies as having said: "The only reason I still want to talk about [the Profumo affair] is that I have to fight the misconception that I was a prostitute".

Tom Mangold, who met and befriended Ms Rice-Davies when he was a young newspaper reporter covering the scandal, profiles her in the Daily Mail.

He notes the former Solihull shop assistant had a successful career as a singer and actress in Germany and Israel before marrying her third husband, multi-millionaire Ken Foreman.

"My life was one long descent into respectability," she told Mangold, when they met last year.

Her death from cancer, he writes, robs us of "a lively, honest, wickedly amusing girl who had a great ability to turn events to her advantage."

"I wouldn't have missed it at all," she told Mangold. "It was a great time, I learned a lot, I grew up fast, I made mistakes, but I never quite tripped up or fell down."

Lawyer and politician Geoffrey Robertson writes in the Independent about how Ms Rice-Davies had continued to fight to clear the name of Stephen Ward, the society host who killed himself while on trial on charges of living off immoral earnings.

Robertson says the charges were "trumped up and the judge's behaviour in the trial was preposterous" - an establishment revenge on a man who could expose war minister John Profumo's lies to Parliament.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Minister John Profumo triggered the scandal by lying to Parliament about his relationship with Christine Keeler, who was also seeing a Russian spy

He notes Ms Rice-Davies fought a successful battle with the National Archives in recent years to make it release papers relating to Ward's trial, although some are still embargoed until 2046.

The Daily Telegraph notes that the woman once central to a scandal that rocked a Conservative government, ended up as a close friend of Mrs Thatcher.

The link came via Mr Foreman - a business associate of Sir Denis Thatcher - and it led the couples to frequently holiday together.

The paper quotes Ms Rice-Davies's friend Lord Lloyd-Webber as saying, "Mandy was enormously well-read and intelligent.

"I will always remember discussing with her over dinner subjects as varied as Thomas Cromwell's dissolution of the monasteries and the influence of the artist Stanley Spencer on Lucian Freud.

"With a different throw of the dice, Mandy might have been head of the Royal Academy or even running the country."


Miniature Santa outfits

And finally, on to the festive season And Finallys...

The Daily Mail features the story of Croydon woman Emmie Stevens who gives her 12 dogs rather more than the traditional bone or squeaky toy for Christmas.

Ms Stevens, 26, has spent £1,000 on gifts for the pampered pooches, and they will all eat a full turkey meal (with all the trimmings, the Mail notes) before being treated to rides on a "doggy sleigh" while wearing miniature Santa outfits.

By contrast, Ms Stevens' boyfriend Barry Stears will get a £200 present, the paper adds.

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Say goodbye to lucidity...

A present dilemma in the Daily Express of a different kind.

It features Britain's oldest man, 110-year-old Nazer Singh, of Sunderland.

Mr Singh, who had never heard of Christmas until he migrated to this country in 1965, says, "Since I came to England I take pride in receiving gifts and giving presents. I'm running out of items to ask for, though."

His 61-year-old son Chain hints that Nazer - the third oldest man in the world - will mainly receive warm clothes: "Oh, and whisky. We can't forget that."

On the subject of booze, the Times reports an experiment that will be of interest to all those attending a Christmas party.

It asked scientists to subject "volunteers" to free gin and tonics, and then monitored the speed and fluency of their conversations.

The idea was to find if there was a "sweet spot" in drinking, where alcohol loosens the tongue but doesn't inhibit lucidity. University College London researchers - sadly - report there isn't.

"The idea of alcohol making you more creative is not supported," says one.

The Guardian tackles the idea that Christmas now is more expensive for families than it was "back in the day".

Examining a range of widely-bought presents from 1982, it concludes the rise of China as a base for cheap manufacturing and advances in technology has now slashed the prices of most of the 2014 equivalents.

Image copyright PA
Image caption VHS was "hi-tech" in 1982

Thirty-two years ago, the top-selling stocking filler was a Braun hand-held blender. It cost £31 in today's money, but a 2014 version retails for £17, the paper notes.

More affluent households in 1982 might splash out on a Ferguson VHS video recorder, but the Guardian notes that cost almost a month's salary for an average working person back then.

But will the snow be as we remember from yesteryear?

The Daily Star says - yes.

Its forecasters say northern Britain could face "epic" snow in the run-up to the big day.

But with one Ladbrokes punter already putting a £1,000 bet on a white Christmas, the paper sounds a note of caution.

"Forecasters say the nation is at the mercy of two "battling" weather fronts and they don't know which will win out," it reports.

The nation's children await the outcome with bated breath!

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