Is it just me, or has the whole row about Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross got completely out of hand?
Let’s get some perspective here. Russell Brand was hired to be outrageous. He stuck to his job description and, on one occasion, went that bit too far. At the time the prank was aired, only a handful of people complained. It was only after Andrew Sachs’s grand-daughter kicked up a fuss about it that all the Disgusted-of-Dorkings started writing in to complain.
This over-reaction is a symptom of the increased media scrutiny that public sector organisations are now under. When the newspapers bark, most of the public sector flinches. In many organisations any crisis, especially where there is a fear that unfavourable press coverage may result, is met with a rash of suspensions, officious investigations and the blaming of…well….anyone who happens to be in the way. Sometimes this reaction is justified but often it isn’t. the effect is to create a risk-averse, arse-covering culture in which no-one moves unless they have written authority to do so.
OK, maybe I exaggerate a bit but, for once, it would be great to see the Chief Executive of a public body tell the media to calm down and get a sense of perspective. To take a stance like that requires courage and some good legal and PR advice but the alternative to facing down this sort of tabloid-fuelled mass hysteria is the fear and paralysis that erodes an organisations’ effectiveness.
It is right for the BBC to suspend Ross and Brand and it should have issued a formal apology to Andrew Sachs a lot sooner, but senior executive resignations, expensive inquiries and questions in the House? Isn’t that all a bit unnecessary? It’s a radio show, for God’s sake. Sometimes things just go wrong.
The BBC will probably do what most organisations do in these circumstances. It will play safe and introduce any number of new procedures to make sure nothing like this happens again. Employees will spend more time covering their backs and the result will be less interesting programmes that cost more.
This story has been fuelled by spiralling hysteria and over-reaction. We don’t expect measured responses from journalists but BBC bosses should have handled it better. Above all, our senior politicians should have stayed out of the whole silly affair.