The suspension of Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand by the BBC over their boorish and lewd phone call to Andrew Sachs is a definite case of the BBC finally sitting back and taking a look at their media stock after a week of keeping its collective head in the sand,
Suspension is the equivalent to the mediaeval practice of putting offenders in the stocks in a market place and letting passers by throw rotten fruit at them – the only difference being that the rotten fruit thrown is ink and pixel and the people throwing it are the media and vocal and irate people many of whom most probably rarely or never listen to the show, which airs after the watershed.
I cannot imagine that this will last too long – Ross is a vital brand for the BBC, who need to cling on to their younger audience in a fractured media world. Ross and Brand could get jobs anywhere they liked, and it is worth asking who is likely to be able to replace them at the corporation. With Brand gone of his own volition, we must watch and wait to see what happens next.
Yes, there are complaints flooding in about their shock jock tactics, but this is from a vocal minority, which is tiny compared to the audience base they attract. Yes, what they unloaded on Sachs was boorish, vulgar and unpleasant, but no puppies were drowned. The disgust at Brand and Ross’ call divides along the boundaries between young and old. Many older Radio 2 listeners would not be caught dead listening to the show. Many of the target audience think that what they did was funny and not much different from the sort of pranking that mobile phone-owning teenagers do to each other every day of the week.
The truth is that this would never have hit the airwaves if a producer at the BBC had stepped back for a moment and said ‘This isn’t nice, we can’t air this.’ Certainly, Ross and Brand are culpable insomuch as they made the call to Andrew Sachs in the first place, but they are not finally responsible for what goes on the air if the item was pre-recorded, as this was. I spoke to Jonathan Ross, who said that he assumed that the producers had cleared everything with Sachs, since the broadcast was going ahead.
It is a mistake to associate all blame with the two stars when clearly the people in authority at the BBC have no perception of what is over the line, of what should and should not be broadcast.
I think that the suspension is a PR gesture to take the heat off whilst the BBC look into this in depth. I would suggest that the BBC are going to use the suspension as a chance to make Ross think about his actions and to look into what happened, but I hope that they will look at the producers of the show with equal scrutiny. One thing is certain, the BBC didn’t move quickly enough on this matter – is it possible that they have let the story build out of all proportion because of the low profile of the station controller. Lesley Douglas?
I cannot believe that the BBC would completely remove Ross for something he is not entirely responsible for, however boorish it may be. I am certain that they will rehabilitate him, in much the same way that Kate Moss was rehabilitated after the cocaine scandals of a couple of years ago.
Moss, it should be remembered, lost several contracts before bouncing back more successful than ever. The BBC would be kicking themselves as hard as some of the people who dropped Kate Moss must have been if they bow to the pressure of a vocal minority and let Jonathan Ross follow Russell Brand by taking his anarchic brand of humour to a rival broadcaster.
However, with even Gordon Brown using the furore to divert the news agenda away from headlines about the shocking state of the economy and certain papers, those that hate the BBC paying entertainers large salaries, sticking the knife in at every opportunity, anything could happen – as, indeed, Brand’s falling on his sword proves. Unfortunately, the story has all the toxic ingredients: cock-slinging maverick; old comedy icon; racy granddaughter; TV host the midmarkets have an issue with. Add to that the BBC’s foolish display of heel-dragging over making a statement and the conflagration could take out a lot more than just the careers of Ross and Brand.