Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 April 2014

Stars who need slapped down

Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross thought that by lying low the row over their distasteful telephone “prank” call would blow over quickly, they are sadly mistaken.

If Now even the Prime Minister has made his views known, branding their antics as inappropriate and unacceptable behaviour.

Both the BBC and the broadcasting regulator, Ofcom, have launched separate inquiries into how the telephone calls to actor Andrew Sachs came to be aired on the Radio 2 show. Around 10,000 complaints about the show have been made to the Corporation.

Whatever the uproar, the two celebrities, both of whom are extremely well paid by the licence payer, must shoulder the majority of the blame. Their supposedly funny prank was in very poor taste and very unfunny.

Brand is an acquired taste and Ross tends to veer towards crudity even in his prime time television show. Even for them to leave recorded telephone calls to Mr Sachs suggesting that Brand had slept with his granddaughter went beyond the Pale. Their language was crude, included expletives and had no mitigating merit.

Although both men are said to have apologised to Mr Sachs, they should be made to do so in public, shaming them as much as possible. They must also apologise to his granddaughter who had her reputation sullied without the opportunity to reply.

Both men, because of their celebrity status and, particularly in Ross’s case, their appeal to large audiences, may have thought themselves above rebuke. They certainly got that as wrong as they did with their pitiful, puerile attempt at humour.

The BBC has been forced to apologise for the show and there must be several people in its ranks who are now fearful for their jobs. The show in question was recorded and had to be approved by people of quite senior authority. How anyone could have agreed to air the comments of Brand and Ross beggars belief. In some circles the pair may be regarded as the cutting edge of modern humour, but the majority of licence payers will feel otherwise.

The Corporation and Ofcom are both investigating how the programme came to be broadcast and what rules, if any, were broken. It is clear from the public reaction, as well as the political uproar with the Tories joining in the clamour of criticism, that action must be taken against those who allowed the programme to go out in the form that it did and on Brand and Ross. It is also evident that the recorded telephone prank should never have been aired. Anyone with a modicum of common sense would have realised that.

There are a number of options open to both Ofcom and the BBC. They include the imposition of fines on the Corporation, sacking or suspending staff and the two celebrities.

Whether the BBC would have the nerve even to suspend either Brand or Ross, in case they would defect to rival broadcasters, is a debatable point. At the very least both should be publicly censured for their behaviour and their future output kept under close review.

Being a celebrity does not bestow the right to degrade, abuse or insult others.

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