So the BBC Trust – that collection of the great and the good who the government appoints to rule the BBC – has today published its conclusions on the famous Russell Brand Show/Jonathan Ross/Andrew Sachs farrago.
In short, the Trust led by affable but somewhat “senior” in age Sir Michael Lyons, has decided that Mr Ross’ comments about Brand effing Sachs’ grand-daughter were “so grossly offensive that there was no justification for its broadcast”. Radio 2 was guilty of failure on three levels: editorial control, allowing the comment to be recorded in the first place; compliance, by letting the comments slip through the checks and balances system for programming; and editorial judgement, by allowing the finished programme to go on air with the offensive remarks still in situ.
But the Trust hasn’t called for any more heads than have already rolled. It says the BBC management’s decision to suspend Ross and accept the resignations of R2 controller Lesley Douglas and presenter Russell Brand were “appropriate”.
Whether you agree that what was said by Ross and Brand was “offensive” or not (I don’t), the BBC Trust’s judgement is as interesting for what it doesn’t say as for what it does. No mention is made of how the BBC responded to the tsunami of complaints which built on Monday 27 October, the day after the Mail on Sunday and later editions of other Sunday newspapers including the Telegraph had both brought the comments to the general public’s attention and encouraged several thousand of them to complain about a programme they clearly hadn’t heard or felt strongly enough about to criticise when it was originally broadcast.
I still feel the BBC needs a stronger editorial champion than it appears to have. Admittedly the BBC Trust doesn’t exist to champion BBC editorial independence but to bring it to book on behalf of the rest of us as licence fee payers and the government which approves the BBC’s funding via the universal tax, the licence fee.
Will anyone from the BBC management – director general Mark Thompson? – be brave enough to stand up for comedy in all its forms, even if it offends some people? It will take a great deal of diplomacy, given the vociferous multitudes who have made sure we all know just how “offended” they are (more than 42,000 according to the BBC Trust).
Defending the BBC will also take a great deal of bravery, now that the Brand/Ross/Sachs row is being used by the anti-BBC brigade to try to bring the BBC’s funding back into question. Radio 4’s Today programme dedicated their “top slot” to debating the future of the licence fee at 8.10am this morning. Chief among the BBC’s critics is Charles Moore, a former editor of the Telegraph. Funny how it’s always the same names attacking the BBC.