Thursday, October 30, 2008

Ross & Brand saga ousts serious news

For the fourth day running the top story on the BBC and Sky News was the furore surrounding a lewd broadcast featuring Jonathon Ross and Russell Brand [timeline]. Each day this week the drama has been beefed up by the tabloids, radio chat shows and TV News broadcasts. Even broadsheets have covered the story prominently on their front pages. The issue surrounds an offensive phone call that was made to actor Andrew Sachs, well known for his role as Manuel in the 1970s sitcom Fawlty Towers. Sachs was not in at the time of the call and a message was left on his answer machine. During the banter Ross was heard to say “He [Brand] fucked your grand-daughter”. A follow up call added to the lewd comments [transcript].
A producer contacted Sachs and it had been agreed that a proper interview be conducted. However, the taped programme was aired and some days later, following greater publicity in the Mail on Sunday, thousands of complaints began to flood into the BBC. The organisation said it apologised and said it had launched an investigation. Brand made what was seen as an “apology for an apology” [BBC] on Monday and the Venessa show on BBC London received dozens of calls calling for both he and Ross to be sacked. Questions in parliament were raised and much air time was given over to the story on Sky and the BBC. Yesterday Russell Brand said he was resigning from the BBC radio programme and repeated his apology to Andrew Sachs and his grand-daughter Georgina Baillie [BBC].
As news broke tonight that Leslie Douglas, the controller of BBC Radio 2, had resigned the rolling news started once again on the two main UK news stations. It was also announced tonight that Jonathon Ross would be suspended without pay for 12 weeks [BBC / Sky News]. Mark Thompson the BBC controller described Ross’s actions as "utterly unacceptable" and that "it cannot be allowed to go uncensured or without sanction". Although there are some serious issues about taste and decency surrounding the story, many have complained at the saturation coverage [Sky News].

Although other stories have been covered by the media, many have been shuffled to the back pages of the papers or given very little airtime on television news. Only CNN and al Jazeera continued to report the important stories. The earthquake in Pakistan, which has left more than 200 dead, barely got a mention on either of the two news broadcasters yesterday [CNN / al Jazeera. Both CNN and al Jazeera gave reports of a bomb blast in India which killed 62. Again Sky gave only a few seconds to the incident. While the BBC and Sky News have reported on the continuing crisis in the Congo, which has left 50,000 displaced, it has only been CNN and al Jazeera that has provided in depth coverage and analysis. Even a more local story, that of a bomb blast in Spain which injured 27, failed to make it to news bulletins on either Sky or the BBC [CNN]. And while bomb attacks maybe commonplace in Afghanistan, a suicide attack on the Afghan Ministry in Kabul which left 5 dead was only mentioned on al Jazeera and on a rolling strap on CNN.
When the BBC and Sky have returned to other news it has been to cover the US election. To flip between the two stations one might think the election was here. More than 45 minutes of continual coverage were given over to events in the US mid-afternoon on Thursday. Sky and BBC both gave significant airtime to Obama as he spoke at a rally in Florida. And Sky are presenting several special programmes covering the election.
Financial news has also been pushed to the back burner. Stocks across most indices continued to rise despite falls seen on Monday. However, in Japan, which is also seeing financial difficulties, the government initiated a bail-out to the tune of $250 M. However despite the economic gloom, the biggest shopping mall in Europe opened today in west London [BBC]. Maybe normality will return as everybody goes shopping. News may also become a little more serious as the Ross & Brand debacle winds up.

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