Friday, 31 October 2008

"Que?" - Brand / Ross... What does it all mean?

The hysterical reaction to the last week of activity surrounding the Brand / Ross saga seems almost farcical. It's even got it's own name... 'Sachsgate'!

This media feeding frenzy has ensured front page coverage on all national newspapers, led all our news bulletins and become the main topic of conversation of the chattering classes. Everyone, it seems, has an opinion on this. (And most I think, have not even heard the programme in its entirety, if at all!)

Some working in non-UK radio industries can't quite believe that the Prime Minister is being asked about a prank phone calls in press conferences whist the economy is crumbling around his very ears!

As predicted, scalps have been claimed. Russell Brand thought that by resigning from his Radio 2 show, that may placate those wanting blood. Frankly, his star is rising in Hollywood and a late night Radio 2 show is not the end of his ambitions. But no... one scalp is not enough! The exceptionally talented Lesley Douglas then felt duty bound to fall on her sword; a noble thing to do, as the incident was something that occurred on her network. BBC Director General, Mark Thompson was probably grateful she did so, as it took some of the heat off him. And the hunters main prize? Well... as we know, Jonathan Ross has been suspended for 3 months without pay.

Will that be it? Will there be more blood on the studio floor? Quite probably. I'm certain that's not the end of it.

When they write the history of the BBC and its place as a public service broadcaster in the 21st century, Hutton, 'Queengate' and now 'Sachsgate' will all feature prominently.

But why has this incident captured the imagination of the country in such a momentous way? I believe there are 3 main reasons:

1. The BBC is involved; the great British public have a strange relationship with this institution. On one hand, many are quite rightly proud of it, especially its reputation abroad. I still maintain it is the finest broadcaster in the world. However, when it makes a mistake, it becomes an easy target, because everyone's suddenly reminded that it's “our money” that funds it, and anything that's publicly funded can't possibly make a mistake!

2. Celebrities are involved; we're obsessed by celebrities. We love reading about them. They fill a hole in many people's unglamorous lives. They sell newspapers. And when a celebrity is involved in a scandal... well... it's manna from heaven for the papers and news broadcasters alike.

3. A morality tale is involved; nothing excites the press in the UK more than a story chronicling the decline of standards of our nation. Whether it's hoodies, lack of respect in school or teenage mums... any indicator of this country going to 'hell in a handcart' is blown out of all proportion by a press pack keen to amplify the end of civilisation as we know it.

So there we have it. A perfect scandal that started as a misjudged item on a late night radio show 10 days later becomes symbolic of the 'decline and fall' of a once great nation. Only in Great Britain!!

This is another example of the ‘British disease’ where we enjoy elevating our celebrities, but then when they get too successful (or are perceived to be paid too much licence fee payers money perhaps), a section of the media strive manfully to drag them down over one particular incident.

Provided the checks and balances of a strong editorial team are present, some radio presenters should be encouraged to take risks and explore the limits of acceptability. If they don’t, we will breed a generation of broadcasters whose programmes are the radio equivalent of beige; uninspiring, undistinguished and uneventful.

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