A matter of trust
By Global Journalist Staff Posted Nov 4 2008
UPDATED Nov. 10, 2008
The BBC received 42,000 complaints from viewers and others about lewd comments broadcast on Radio 2’s Russell Brand Show. As a result, Brand, head specialist of music and compliance Dave Barber and Radio 2 controller Lesley Douglas resigned. Jonathan Ross, a cohost of the program, was suspended.
Brand and Ross left obscene messages on actor Andrew Sach’s voicemail during the Oct. 18 program in which they cursed and talked about Brand’s sexual relationship with Sach’s granddaughter.
After both hosts were suspended pending investigation Oct. 29, Brand and Douglas resigned from the BBC.
“I don’t want to cause any more trouble,” Brand said in a statement announcing his resignation. “It’s a bit sad that my actions have led to the BBC being attacked, and I take complete and utter responsibility for that.”
The show was prerecorded, and the questionable content was cleared by a “senior editorial figure.”
Douglas said she took full responsibility for the controversy because it happened “on my watch.” BBC General Director Mark Thompson asserted that Douglas’s decision to resign was entirely her own. Thompson confirmed to the corporation’s in-house magazine that Douglas had been aware of the broadcast’s content before it aired.
“A 12-week suspension is an exceptional step, but I believe it is a proportionate response to Jonathan’s roles in this unhappy affair,” Thompson said.
Thompson also met with members of the BBC Trust, an independent body that monitors content quality and works on behalf of the UK license fee payers whose annual fees directly fund the television network. During the Oct. 30 meeting, which lasted six hours, the group reviewed the initial results of the internal investigation into the matter. It was decided afterward that Ross, who holds a three-year BBC contract with a $6 million annual salary, would be suspended without pay for 12 weeks.
The Trust issued a series of reviews, including reassessment of all programs by the director of BBC audio and music and a review of “appropriate boundaries of taste.”
These internal changes include measures to prevent material from being reviewed by anyone but BBC editorial executives. It is thought that the “Sachsgate” scandal came about in part because Brand’s own production company, Vanity Projects, didn’t follow the typical editorial process.
“Because he succeeded in becoming an independent production where everybody has become answerable only to himself, the chain of command had been reduced to two people—-Russell and Lesley,” said Paul Gambaccini, who has a weekly radio show on Radio 2.
Media guardian Ofcom began its own investigation into a possible breach of broadcasting code related to explicit language and invasion of privacy.
“This is clearly inappropriate and unacceptable behavior, as is now widely recognized,” said Prime Minister Gordon Brown. “Ofcom have said they will investigate the matter and it is for the BBC, the BBC Trust and Ofcom to take any appropriate action.”
The BBC issued an apology to Sachs on Oct. 27, and Radio 2 aired an apology Nov. 8 to Sachs, his granddaughter and license fee payers.