Friday, October 31, 2008

Haven't they burned down Broadcasting House yet?

Being over in America, it's a little difficult to believe that this Russell Brand story is actually happening - it's hard to believe two grown-up men could have made the programme they did; hard to believe that anyone let it play out unedited; hard to believe that the reaction has got so far out of hand as to wind up with Lesley Douglas quitting from Radio 2 and 6Music.

For now, though, we seem stuck in the unedifying position of watching the BBC Trust attempting to please the Daily Mail, apparently unaware that the Mail will never be satisfied:

In its report on the "Sachsgate" prank phone calls, the BBC Trust was scathing of the control and compliance procedures in BBC Radio.

"Editorial control and compliance procedures in non-news areas of the BBC's Audio and Music department are inadequate and need to be strengthened," the trust said.

"We have asked the director general [Mark Thompson] to present formal recommendations to strengthen editorial controls and compliance for the trust's consideration.

"Furthermore, we have requested the executive to strengthen immediately the editorial controls around any programme which represents high levels of editorial risk.

"Also in this area, we have asked the executive to assess immediately the editorial controls and compliance procedures in place for all programmes – across television and radio – where the production company is owned and/or managed by the featured performer."

The BBC Trust also asked Thompson to engage his "most senior editorial team" to come up with a "common understanding within the BBC of what is acceptable [for broadcast] and this must reflect widespread public opinion".

Like, I suspect, most of the people who complained, I didn't hear the programme so can't really comment except on the basis of sketchy reports of what may have happened. But it seems to have been a mistake, rather than an outrage; a misjudgment, rather than a mortal, moral offence. Apologies were appropriate, but does anyone - outside of Northcliffe House - really think that this is a proportionate response?

Oh. Paul Gambaccini does, apparently:
But the veteran DJ, publicly voicing a resentment understood to be felt by some in BBC Radio about perceived preferential treatment of Brand, said Douglas had a commitment to the comedian that was "almost obsessive" and had paid for it with her job.

Douglas resigned yesterday over the Sachsgate affair. Brand resigned from his Radio 2 show on Wednesday, seemingly partly in what turned out to be a vain attempt to protect Douglas, his BBC mentor.

"She let him get away with so many outrageous things," Gambaccini told Nicky Campbell on the BBC Radio 5 Live breakfast show today.

"Lesley had a commitment to Russell which was almost obsessive. That is to say she believed that his hire was a good move for Radio 2 and she stood by him thick and thin even while he was alienating almost everyone else in the building."

Gambaccini suggested the infamous episode on Brand's show on October 18 - when obscene pre-recorded messages he and Jonathan Ross left on Andrew Sachs' answerphone were broadcast – was the tip of the iceberg.

"I do believe that if anyone had investigated this matter properly – as now Ofcom and the BBC will do – they will find about a dozen items that will make their hair curl on end. I am not kidding you," he said.

"[Lesley] believed it was part of her job to expand the perimeter of the tent – Radio 2's a big tent – and that Russell was an important symbol. The fact is that he was her pet, and she let him get away with so many outrageous things," Gambaccini added.

Goodness. It's almost classical, isn't it? Oh hang on... it is classical, you say, Gambo?
Gambaccini described Douglas as one of the most loved, respected and admired executives in the radio business. He said her departure was a "tragedy which is Greek in its dimensions".

He said the former Radio 2 controller was like Achilles, a "great warrior brought low by his heel ... Lesley Douglas was brought low by Russell Brand".

Perhaps, out of evil may commeth good - surely all any new controller of the networks keen to stamp their authority on the job has to do is shuffle George Lamb out the way and put someone more fitting into mid-mornings on 6? MediaGuardian has decided that Bob Shennan might be in line for the job - controller, not dj - on the grounds that Channel 4 has closed his radio division so he's available. Who would his Achilles Heel be - Nicky Campbell, do you think?


Anonymous said...

But it seems to have been a mistake, rather than an outrage; a misjudgment, rather than a mortal, moral offence. Apologies were appropriate, but does anyone - outside of Northcliffe House - really think that this is a proportionate response?

Spot on. The whole thing is so far beyond what it actually is that nobody around there seems to be thinking at all.

I'm less worried about the broadcast of offensive things (The Mail gets away with printing them every day) and more worried about the people sending in complaints. It's frightening that people can be so brainwashed by others telling them to complain about something they didn't even hear. Thank goodness they don't actually watch everything and aren't more offended. I mean didn't this same broadcasting institution also play a programme which seemed to suggest, rather offensively, that Spanish waiters were dangerously incompetent? Oh... wait... probably too soon.

Anonymous said...

It is a bizarre thing alright.

There are several bits to it:

Two middle-aged men ring up an old bloke and tell him that one of them has fucked his granddaughter. This is a nasty thing to do, and they should not have done it.

The programme is then broadcast on the BBC with minimal editing (they took out the bit about breaking into Sach's house and buggering him until he felt better, but left in the rest).

Two listeners to the live programme complain, As is their right. Then the Daily Mail jumps on the bandwagon and the rest is history.

It is absolutely right that Lesley Douglas should have resigned. As I said before during the 6 Music fake voting brouhaha - if she didn't know what was going on, she was negligent. If she did, she was culpable.

Don Fugazi

Justin Fun said...

The one positive thing to come out of this might be a realisation by the BBC that replacing every DJ on the network with a John Noel client is not, after all, a brilliant idea.

Anonymous said...

the one thing thats come out of this is that we now have a dead cert for the next celeb big bro series in the form of sachs' granddaughter. ironically, brand apparently did a sketch about a girl he used to see called georgina in his live show a few months back. coincidence?

Laura Brown said...

I agree that the producers' decision to broadcast the call was most likely a simple misjudgement. The call itself, however ... well, that would have to be one hell of a "mistake." I think it was bullying, pure and simple, and I'm not going to make any attempt to excuse that, even if condemning it does put me in the extremely uncomfortable position of being on the same side as the Daily Mail.

Mind you, for the Mail to claim to be offended by nasty, low-minded bullying is so ironic that I may have to save up their coverage to read after my next blood donation.

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