Thursday, 30 October 2008

The Price Of Manufactured Outrage….

A lot of bloggers have covered the Ross/Brand Affair recently, and I can’t disagree with their assessment of it as ’trash’ and ’despicable behaviour’ that is made worse by being funded by the license-paying public under duress.

But those who rightly focus on the costs to the license-payer may therefore cast a jaundiced eye at the newspaper-driven campaign to sack Ross:
The BBC will be plunged into a multi-million pound legal battle with Jonathan Ross if he is dismissed at the end of the internal inquiry.

Ross has 18 months to run of his three year £18 million contract which is the most expensive in the history of the BBC. All his shows for the BBC are made by his own production company, Hot Sauce.
Who’ll pay these costs? The newspapers? Oh, no, it’ll be the licence-fee payers, of course…
The contract includes a clause which gives the BBC the right to terminate the agreement, at short notice, if the corporation is brought into disrepute by his actions.

Even though Mark Thompson, the director-general, has accused Ross of a "gross lapse in taste", his lawyers would sue the corporation if he is fired.
Thus, a double whammy for the newspapers – humiliation for a competitor, and more salacious infighting that can be used to sell even more papers. Score!
The lewd remarks by Ross, who was a guest on Russell Brand's Radio 2 show, were pre-recorded and broadcast two days later on October 18. They had been subjected to the usual internal compliance procedure.

But Ross and his legal advisers will argue that any blame is attached to the BBC for permitting the comments to be broadcast in the first place. They will argue that if anyone is dismissed or disciplined it should be the producers of the show and compliance team.
I can’t see that that isn’t going to be viewed sympathetically by a court. If the comments went out live, with no time delay, it would have been a whole different kettle of fish…
The BBC is anxious to avoid an expensive and damaging legal row with Ross who Mark Thompson regards as "genuine talent".

Senior management are aware that they would have another public relations disaster on their hands, after the damaging publicity of the last three days, if they had to give Ross the £9 million outstanding on his contract. Ross may also consider suing for any damage to his reputation and loss of earnings.
The BBC are now learning that quick, kneejerk reaction to bad publicity is like throwing a snowball up a steep hill – once it’s rolled back down, it’s often big enough to crush you….

And that may not be the totality of the bad news for licence-fee payers:
When 27,000 people complain about a BBC broadcast, it’s a fair bet that somewhere along the line the law has been broken. But talk of Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross having committed a criminal offence in disseminating obscene material over the phone is a red herring; it is the law of privacy that could take centre stage in this dispute.
We’ll leave aside the fallacy that because so many people are in agreement, that means something legally. This is another potential cost for those poor license-fee payers:
As Jennifer McDermott, a partner at Withers LLP, says: “Even though Georgina Baillie has now admitted sleeping with Brand, at the time this was broadcast she had a reasonable expectation that this was a private matter. Merely because Brand is a celebrity, he doesn’t have the right to broadcast details of private sexual liaisons (Ed: Well, that’s most of his act gone then, isn’t it…?).”

Mark Thompson, the BBC’s Director-General, will be hoping that Ms Baillie does not sue for invasion of privacy. The corporation would be vicariously liable for the acts of its presenters.

I’m afraid it seems the only winners of this little debacle are likely to be ‘The Mail’, ‘The Sun’, ‘The Times’, ‘The Telegraph’, etc….


Furry Conservative said...

Their "internal compliance procedure" obviously isn't terribly good. I imagine it goes something like "will this upset Muslims?" and if the answer is no, it passes.

Anonymous said...

I think after this debacle, it's going to be a bit stronger. For a while only, though...