So, Ofcom has decided that the BBC must pay for the Russell Brand phonecalls - or, rather, the licence fee payer has to stump up £150,000.
Given Jonathan Ross was suspended for three months without pay as a result of the phone calls, technically the BBC are still going to come out of the deal a few thousand ahead, but the sense of fining the BBC still makes little sense: that's the money we give them to make programmes with. So, in effect, we're having our money taken away and given to the government for something we didn't do. If there must be fines levied against the BBC, should they not come from management's wages - or the independent production company who made the programmes - and not from licence fee money? How does it fit with Ofcom's other work to ensure that there's enough money for public service broadcasting if it takes money away from the only place that is making it?
Ofcom doesn't seem interested, either, that most of the complaints came from people who hadn't heard the programme, and only were outraged at the descriptions of the event they read in the papers. It acknowledges, but doesn't comment:
After the programme of 18 October 2008, the BBC had received 2 complaints from listeners. However, on the Monday (27 October) after the programme of 25 October 2008 and following articles in the national press, the BBC received a further 546 complaints. The total number of complaints finally received by the BBC about Russell Brand was 42,851.
It doesn't alter the question if the programme should have been broadcast, but shouldn't Ofcom at least be starting a debate about this? People were upset not by the radio programme, but by the Mail's coverage of the radio programme. Should Ofcom really be responding to complaints from people who have only been alerted by a newspaper piece? 42,849 complainants had learned about Baillie's private life from the Mail On Sunday, not from Radio 2. Who was the actual broadcaster here?
It's especially odd that Ofcom seems most upset about the invasion of Georgina Baillie and Andrew Sachs' privacy - although she didn't actually complain herself, and he explicitly didn't want to:
In response to Andrew Sachs’ agent, Ofcom acknowledged receipt of the copy of the complaint and noted that Ofcom had “not received any Fairness or Privacy complaint from Andrew Sachs or his granddaughter.” Andrew Sachs’ agent then informed Ofcom that Mr Sachs “has no further complaint he wants to make.”
And in fact, given that within a few days Baillie was signing off on a nationwide poster campaign for a Channel Five programme which said "Now we'll give Georgina the chance to screw them both", it doesn't seem that Baillie was that bothered at all. It doesn't excuse what Brand and Ross did, but it's a bit weird protecting the privacy of someone who doesn't appear to be that upset at the supposed invasion and of another who made it clear they wouldn't be making a formal complaint about privacy.
If I'm understanding this correctly, then, the invasion of the pair's privacy was investigated not because the victims complained, but because a bunch of newspaper readers complained. An ugly public mob demanding that people who had elected to try and move on have their privacy defended, whether they wanted it or not. Let's go and drag Sachs into the street, bring him out his house, and make sure we protect his privacy by kicking off another round of stories about how his Granddaughter had poor taste in men.
One further piece on the affair: Ofcom have also issued a judgement against a Chris Moyles show for an interview he did with Brand. No fine for this, but it is another public drubbing for Moyles. Perhaps Parfitt might need to call him in again.