Thursday, October 30, 2008

Are we a nation of hypocrites?

I see that the Jonathan Ross has been suspended, with no pay, for three months and the head of Radio Two has resigned over the Brand/Ross affair. I think that is right, and the BBC Trust's strong statement is welcome. (I don't think Brand's resignation was necessary but he behaved in a very dignified way in offering it - and probably did his long-term career a favour by doing so - he is an off-the-wall comedian not a middle-of-the-roader).

If we stand back and compare this to the Andrew Gilligan/David Kelly "Today" episode, the two controversies are very different.

Andrew Gilligan did a live two-way broadcast from his own home at 6.30am in the morning and went over the line. We know the rest.

On this occasion, the broadcast was actually recorded. It is quite breathtaking to consider this. The BBC brass had time to review it and call Andrew Sachs to ask him if he was all right with it being broadcast. The problem was that they played the recording back to Sachs over a mobile when he was standing by traffic, and he actually said, when asked if he was okay with it being broadcast: "Not really".

So this wasn't a broadcaster error, although Ross and Brand should obviously take their share of the blame. It was a producer error.

And then that begs the question: If you leave a 25 year old producer in charge of Ross and Brand in a studio - what do you expect ? And apparently the producer checked it "upstairs" and was given the OK.

So this whole charade is a question of broadcasting management, primarily. So, I think the Radio Two head's resignation is justified.

But let's reflect on other aspects of this strange affair.

Two people complained on the day the broadcast was made. It was only after exposure on competing media outlets that the complaints started racking up.

How many people who complained thought that Sach's grand-daughter was a teenager in pigtails? Probably a large number, I suspect. Perhaps if they considered the following, some of them wouldn't be quite so outraged:

Georgina Baillie, the grand-daughter, is a 23 year-old whose Bebo page describes her hobbies as "pole dancing and luvv". She appears (below) on the page in skimpy underwear. She is in a dance troupe called the "Satanic Sluts Xtreme". Someone has commented on her page as follows:

A few days ago Georgina Baillie was boasting about being mentioned on the show and not upset at all! There is a link to the clip on the Satanic Sluts myspace page posted by them that say's "Russell Brand gives the Satanic Sluts a mention" so it clearly didn't upset her if she was happy to have links to it.So at the time she was clearly proud of it then and the stuff he was saying to her grandfather didnt bother her at the time for her to post a link to it. She was just glad her dance troupe got a mention.

Indeed, over the last couple of days we read and seen quite a lot of Ms Baillie in the Sun.

This doesn't excuse what Brand and Ross did. But it does explain it a little.

There is some hypocrisy here. Millions watch and listen to Brand and Ross. Like many comedians, they cross the line so much they have chalk dust all over their shoes. So do Graham Norton, Chris Moyles and Paul Merton. So did Chris Evans in his previous incarnation. If any number of clips of all those comedians' shows were to be plastered over the Daily Mail and played on News at Ten, the BBC would be inundated with complaints.

For example, a few months ago Paul Merton said that the Duke of Edinburgh had set fire to the Cutty Sark. If that clip had been splattered all over the place there would have been hordes of complaints. He was, of course, joking.

The point is that the BBC should not sack Jonathan Ross altogether unless there is a complete reassessment of comedy broadcasting in this country and we, as a nation, suddenly decide that we want to be complete hypocrites and ban what we, well er, actually quite like.

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