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Getting the Sachs

Posted By Ian Jones On Wednesday, October 29, 2008 @ 1:30 pm In blog | Comments Disabled

The Ross/Brand affair has led the BBC, yet again, into hysterical over-reaction.

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Of late, every time the corporation comes into some bother, it has seemed utterly unable to respond in a dignified and proportionate way. From the Hutton Report onwards, through the business over the Queen documentary, the rigged competitions and the fake phone-ins, the default response has been: act first, think later.

In this instance, instead of waiting for the conclusion of an internal investigation, or a report from Ofcom, it has suspended both presenters in a breathless gesture of Being Seen To Do Something. It’s a virtual admission that this particular manifestation of those raucous and long-running anti-BBC sentiments popularised by the Media Guardian and the Daily Mail is valid.

And as usual cause and effect have become all jumbled up. Listen to the supposedly ‘offensive’ broadcast again. Andrew Sachs isn’t insulted. Nor is his granddaughter. Some bad language crops up. Brand and Ross behave like juvenile idiots. No surprise there. That’s what both of them do, week in week out. I wonder how many of those 18,000 complainants are familiar with either of those two broadcasters’ regular shows. They’re not paid to be reticent. They’re not paid to be mealy-mouthed.

This demonisation of the obvious and the commonplace is absurd. What next: an outcry because somebody has just discovered Graham Norton mentioned the word “cock” on an edition of his BBC2 show 18 months ago? Or that Jim Naughtie sounded a bit tetchy during the Today programme in June 2004?

Whenever the Mail or the Guardian decides to attack the BBC, we’re all casualties. Whenever the corporation reels, the country takes two steps backwards.

Their ire is misplaced, their targets are incorrect. Don’t attack the performers. If you’re unhappy, ask why the performers are so popular, why that particular kind of humour is in fashion, and who – or what – does most to encourage celebrity worship in the first place. The answers don’t lie in Television Centre, but up Fleet Street.

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