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Wednesday, October 29, 2008 

A farce beyond satire.

At one point today the Guardian website had the row over "Sachsgate" or whatever completely unoriginal, moronic and false name you want to give this putrid manufactured scandal as its top story. Beneath it, two stories down, was the obviously less important fact that only 200 or so people had died in an earthquake in Pakistan. The contrast and lack of perspective really does say it all; even now the BBC, perhaps understandably, has Brand's resignation as its top story, whilst below it are the irrelevant bursts that Alistair Darling is set to relax the fiscal rules and that Debby Purdy has failed in her attempt to get the Crown Prosecution Service to reveal its thinking over assisted suicide in a foreign country.

Make no bones about it, the events of today have been beyond even our finest satirists. The only people who emerge from it with anything approaching dignity are, bizarrely, Brand for sacrificing himself because he realised he was just a fig-leaf for attacking the BBC, and Andrew Sachs for being magnanimous and as understated as you would perhaps expect. Jonathan Ross emerges looking as aloof as ever, issuing an apology through his solicitors; Georgina Baillie, erstwhile member of the "Satanic Sluts", rails against the "sicko" that she slept with, a cheque bulging in her pocket; the media as a whole looks ever more insular and self-regarding, and moreover smugly happy with itself for leading a witch-hunt that has resulted in just what it wanted, a BBC weakened and emasculated; and the BBC is left with no one to blame but itself.

To start back at something resembling the beginning, it must be pointed out that Brand and Ross did cross a line; regardless of whether Sachs was appearing on the show or not and then couldn't make it, informing a man down the phone that Brand had "fucked" his granddaughter is unacceptable, again, even when you consider that Baillie is hardly the shrinking violet that she wishes to portray herself as. This though is where it starts to get curious: according to the Guardian, Sachs was asked whether the show could be broadcast as it was, and he said yes, as long as it was toned down. We don't know whether it was or not, but it appears that Sachs either didn't listen to the show or the messages until informed by a MoS hack who contacted him on the following Wednesday for a comment. This set in train the complaint and the subsequent storm which has followed. While some of the show went beyond a line, parts of it also were undeniably funny, and I'm no fan of either man. Also to be remembered is that just two people complained after the show at this point, and that was about the swearing. There also was a warning before it went out about the language, but considering it was on past the watershed this should be a moot point in any event.

At most, what should have happened is that all involved should have been raked over the coals. Mark Thompson, rather than suspending the men or setting up kangaroo courts involving the BBC Trust should have repeated the profuse apologies, said that Brand and Ross would be given a formal last warning over their conduct, perhaps hinting their salaries would be cut as a result, and that the systems involved in broadcasting such material would be examined and overhauled if necessary. That would, I should imagine, have satisfied most reasonable people, without going in for empty self-flagellation and being completely craven to the demands of the gutter press and its owners which are the most despicable hypocrites as well as having commercial interest in the BBC facing further brickbats over its content. As soon as he suspended both however there was only one outcome, and that was one or both of them resigning, having apparently lost the confidence of the director general.

The BBC's problem is that it is held to a completely different standard to everyone and everything else. This is partially justified, considering the fact it is funded by the manifestly unfair but still in this writer's opinion lesser of two evils licence fee, but it also means that it has to be all things to all people, and as tastes and the media environment radically change this is becoming more and more difficult. Last year's "fakery" scandals were a case in point: the BBC's were relatively minor oversights that were mostly undertaken to keep a show going, for with the most part no one losing out. This was in complete difference to those involving all three of its main commercial rivals, all of whom had ran telephone competitions which had defrauded those who entered as a result of some never having a chance of winning. These, especially ITV's keeping of £7.8 million, and Ant and Dec's production company being directly involved in one case, were on a completely different plane of seriousness. This though simply wasn't reflected in the media coverage: the BBC was pilloried whilst the rest were almost brushed under the carpet, and it already seems forgotten. For all the claims of the purity and accountability of the private sector, as far as I'm aware not a single individual involved in the running of ITV, Channel 4 or 5 either resigned or was sacked, with Michael Grade, who had promised "zero tolerance" suddenly deciding that no one should be the victim of a witch-hunt. This was again in contrast to the BBC, where Peter Fincham, BBC1 controller resigned over "Crowngate". He was, naturally, swiftly re-employed by ITV. Whether this was partially down to the Daily Mail and General Trust's shareholding in ITN, broadcaster of news on ITV and Channel 4, or to BSkyB's 17.9% stake in ITV is up for you to decide.

There are multiple reasons for deeply regretting what has transpired today. It may be over-the-top to suggest that this will potentially affect the BBC to a similar extent or more to the fallout from the Hutton inquiry, but at the moment it genuinely looks that way. Then the BBC had the benefit of the public siding overwhelmingly with it, and what's more with the Mail declaring a temporary truce, backing the Beeb while declaring war on the government. This time initial sound taking suggests that today a backlash had started against the Mail etc, or at least the Guardian's comment sections suggest that, when yesterday's were overwhelming filled with bile against the BBC. It does though set an absolutely dreadful precedent: the Mail and others have won, the BBC has been vanquished, and now they have carte blanche to object to every little thing that our moral arbiters decide is offensive or which the taxpayer shouldn't be funding. Already, as Greenslade points out, the emphasis is shifting from Brand and Ross to, incredibly, inoffensive pap like Love Soup. You could accept it if they were targeting Chris Moyles or some BBC Three nonsense, but not a harmless rom-com.

Additionally, it's also emboldened politicians who think nothing of deciding what we can and cannot watch. Just witness Jeremy Hunt, Conservative culture secretary with an appropriate name, giving a speech on how his party would like to introduce a "social responsibility" contract with the broadcasters, under which the likes of Brand and Ross's prank calls would not be broadcast lest they "legitimise negative social behaviour." This is censorship under another guise which would mean the cutting of Simpsons' episodes with Bart playing prank calls on Moe, or Channel 4's entire acclaimed series, Fonejacker. It puts all the onus on the broadcaster to justify itself while allowing busybodies of the kind I dearly hoped we'd got rid of to object to every little thing that appears on our screens. No surprises that John Beyer has turned up like a bad penny, having been mainly banished to the pages of the Mail and Telegraph, whilst the likes of Nadine Dorries who doesn't just want to control what women do with their bodies but also wants the wages of Brand and Ross redistributed to needy families, branch out into media comment.

This wasn't then, as it is already being described, a "perfect storm", but an example of just how the modern media are now going to operate. A minor act of bullying and unpleasantness that to an extent was authorised has been completely overwhelmed by a major act of bullying and unpleasantness by those who so often rail against political correctness. Hypocrisy, conflict of interests and sanity have all been cast aside in favour of sticking a quick boot in, whilst the majority of public I would wager are left completely bemused by the whole thing and wonder why the economy or even what's happening in the northern Congo isn't the top story. For brands which dedicate themselves to producing what the people apparently want, they've instead gone with their own interests rather than those of those they are meant to serve, and anyone not caught up in the drama can just go hang, because the editors and elite are interested even if you aren't. And yes, I myself am a glorious hypocrite for having excreted all of these pointless words on the subject. Those with an interest not just in public service broadcasting but also in freedom of speech and a return to casual censorship have much to fear from this stage-managed and sordid scandal.

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Brilliant! But the one person you don't mention is Sachs's agent Meg Pool, who, in a fair universe, would be out of a job by now. She thought it would be a good idea to have Sachs interviewed by Brand! Had she ever heard his show before? And then she apparently has no idea what happened in a show broadcast on a Saturday until being rung up by MoS jurno on Wednesday. So what, exactly, does an agent do these days?

And, I don't often read the Sun, but that article about Georgina is beyond parody...

Brilliant post that says it all, what a sad episode in the tail end of 08.

I'm starting to think the inhabitants of this country are starting to lose their fucking minds. Even Newsnight is blathering on about this shit! Lead item. News about the congo amounted to little more than a 60 second phonecall with Lynsey Hillson. Although I have to say the best laugh I've had in ages was watching Emily Maitliss just now read out a Frankie Boyle joke about the queen's pussy as an example of how degenerate the bbc has become. The gravity in her voice was a joy to behold.

Anyway, Matthew Bannister was just being interviewed on NN alongside Stephen Glover from the Daily Hate and he managed to slip in a dig about the mail being largely responsible for the faux-outrage over this bs. He also pointed out repeatedly that it is not the place of the bbc to act as the moral guardian of the nation and also that a large number of people have no problem with the show, pointing to a survey of young folks by radio 1 which found 2:1 supported Brand/Ross. Glover's answer was that the views of the young are irrelevant. Irrelevant! He seems to believe the bbc should only be allowed to make documentaries. He even had the balls to imagine that 30000 fucktards ringing to complain about something they hadn't heard constituted a majority of licence fee payers. Not wanting to come over all Daily Mail, but my inner Littlejohn thinks that if any single one of them stops paying for their licence, send them to prison. Give them something to really complain about.

You know,I'd rather not have to pay a out chunk of money for the priviliege of watching tv. I fundamentally object to my licence fee money funding dog-egg piss like 2 Pints Of Lager and Coming Of Age and My Family. But I also object to bailiffs smashing up the place in lieu of my money because it's the law. So I got over it and decided to figure out how to work my hands. I can now successfully change channels at even the very shortest of notice. Has the general public lost all ability to think this stuff through for themselves?

"Glover's answer was that the views of the young are irrelevant."

This is what I got when trying to argue the case on various right-wing blogs (yes, I know I shouldn't bother). Apparently if you're under 30 you're not grown-up enough to understand that this is t3h 3vilzz and not funny. I'm looking forward to my enlightenment and conversion to humourless twattery in 6 weeks' time with great gusto...

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