Brand and Ross: Scapegoats in a system of pass the buck
BY LYNSAY SMITH
The suspension of Jonathan Ross and the resignation of Russell Brand may seem, to many, an appropriate response to their irresponsible actions on Radio 2. However, I believe that the conduct of the duo simply illustrates the shortcomings of the BBC.
It is clear that the motive for ringing Andrew Sachs, and the subsequent lewd message left on his answering machine, is a modern media tendency to take the road most dangerous in order to ‘entertain’, grab attention and attempt to secure viewers. Whilst this may be a mix which has worked to the advantage of Channel 4, with such shows as Skins and Big Brother proving popular, the BBC’s endeavour to pursue such risqué, eyebrow-raising entertainment has proved to be much more contentious.
It is undeniable that the message left of poor humour and executed with obscene language, yet it is somewhat ironic that when the show was originally aired, on 18 October, only two listeners were offended enough to compel them to complain. That is two listeners out of two million. This raises the question of the appeal of Russell Brand, whose main attraction for his employer is his popularity. Most of Brand’s listeners appear to ride roughshod over such provocative behaviour, indeed expecting it, with his unpredictable and sometimes unseemly behaviour forming his attraction. The issue therefore lies with the BBC forming the stage from which Brand performs, crucially, a stage which is funded by licensefee-payers’ money.
The result of the stunt? Initial apologies from Brand, Ross and the BBC; a BBC inquiry; an OfCom investigation; a report for the BBC Trust; the suspension of Brand and Ross, and eventually the resignation of Brand. The real consequence of the fiasco, however, lies with a clear underlining of the flaws of the BBC.
The BBC’s apology was one responding to the fear of a media backlash, not one of moral obligation, as illustrated by the release of Brand’s initial unremorseful sing-song apology to Sachs. In a more immediate way, it demonstrates the incapacity of the show’s producer, Nic Philps, but more significantly, however, the BBC has continued to pass-the-buck, a trait which is becoming increasingly inseparable from the BBC in times of controversy.
A single sheet of paper holds the key to finding whether the BBC has systematically broken the rules, or whether the incident was the failure of an individual. This ‘compliance form’ is required to be filled out by a producer and signed off by either an editor or commissioning editor, noting possible offensive content- a form which was either overlooked or filled in with little concern.
Whilst the BBC has a lot of experience with responding to criticism, it seems to have little experience in implementing sufficient changes to prevent the incompetence of a few from blackening the profile of many. Brand and Ross may have misjudged their prank, but the BBC have consistently neglected to apportion blame to the real culprits. It’s about time they stopped equating the most visible figures as the most responsible.