BBC phone prank vs spurious complaints

The number of complaints made about the BBC radio show in which Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand made a prank call to actor Andrew Sachs currently stands at 27,000. However, the number of people who complained following the actual broadcast stood at just two. The remainder have seemingly only complained following the media coverage in the subsequent days. It’s likely that many of the complainants didn’t actually hear the show in question, or if they did, they have only been motivated to complain by the recent news stories. Ofcom is investigating the incident, but should they take the huge number of complaints into account? I think they shouldn’t – or at least not with the same weight as more genuine complaints. A broadcast has to be judged in context, and while in this case the nature of the phone call made is clearly disgraceful and unacceptable, to allow people to complain about broadcasts they haven’t actually seen or heard would set an unwelcome precedent.

Imagine if a documentary series that usually draws a small audience showed a programme about a religion which some followers objected to. With the power of the internet, they could soon persuade plenty of others to send in complaints. Also, outside of broadcasting, suppose for example that I object to neighbours being allowed to disturb each other with excessive noise. If I read about such a case in the newspaper, can I then complain to the Environmental Health department about it, despite living in a different town and never having experienced the disturbance for myself? As much as I might hate noise, even if I heard a recording on the radio, I wouldn’t know what it sounded like above the ambient noise, and I wouldn’t know any background to the case. Clearly people should only complain about things they’ve experienced first-hand.

What had probably driven such a large number of people to complain is the sudden realisation of the sort of content that it being paid for by the Licence Fee. So why didn’t any of the original listeners to the show complain? It seems the mainly young audience don’t see anything wrong with swearing and making lewd remarks on the phone to an elderly man, or with publicising sordid details of a woman’s private life. And why don’t they see anything wrong? Because they are continually exposed to this sort of behaviour every day on TV and radio.

When Andrew Sachs appeared in Fawlty Towers in the 70s, John Cleese played Basil Fawlty, a hotel manager who was rude and unpleasant to guests, for its comic value. However, not only was it fiction, the character of Basil Fawlty was a good model of how not to behave, and not to be a good hotel manager, which was what made it so funny. Today, however, so-called comedians see the need to be foul-mouthed and rude to real people, but they are not laughed at as fools because they are behaving improperly, but rather their victims are laughed at. The likes of Ross and Brand are considered role models by young people, who will go on to copy them when they are out in the street. No wonder our society is becoming what it is.

The BBC needs to stop paying what is effectively public money to the likes of Brand (£200,000) and Ross (£6 million). Brand has already resigned. I’ve never seen what’s so great about Jonathan Ross: he’s an untalented and irritating presenter at the best of times, who seemingly got where he is simply through having a speech impediment, so this latest incident would be a good excuse to get rid of him. A lot of the blame must also fall on the editor who decided to broadcast what was a pre-recorded show. And if Ofcom does fine the BBC, how about subtracting the fine from next year’s Licence Fee, rather than it going to the treasury? The fact that each household would only receive a rebate of a few pence just illustrates how pointless this sort of fine is when any big organisation is involved, but at least it would eliminate the often-raised complaint that Licence Fee payers were effectively paying the fine.

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