And if Russell Brand & Jonathan Ross had been newspaper journalists?

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Suppose it had been two newspaper journalists who made the call to Mr Sachs, put the video on the newspaper’s website and published an article about it. How would the response have been different?


Well, it would have received very little coverage in the press because most papers still abide by the rule that they will not criticize one another’s behaviour – particularly on taste and decency issues (there are notable exceptions but these tend to be buried within the media sections of websites like the Guardian).

It is very unlikely it would have been picked up by the broadcasters since they too tend to avoid moralizing about members of the British press (note how little mention there has been on the BBC, for example, of the indictment of various newspapers for their McCann coverage).

Without the oxygen of publicity it is unlikely there would have been many complaints. As Martin Belam has pointed out, there were only two complaints after the original Ross-Brand broadcast on October 18th. The rest of the complaints (over 27,000 and rising) came after the broadcast was covered by the Mail on Sunday and other newspapers.

Even had people complained in their thousands, we would not have known. The Press Complaints Commission – the press equivalent of the BBC Trust or OFCOM – does not release figures about the number of complaints on a specific issue. It waits until the end of the year and then tots up the total number of complaints – and even then groups them by which clause of the editorial code they fall under (e.g. accuracy, privacy). And all complaints, excepting those from Mr Sachs and his granddaughter, would have been thrown out anyway because they would be counted as ‘third party complainants’ who are not directly affected.

And if Mr Sachs himself had complained? Or his granddaughter?

If they had complained to the newspaper there is little likelihood they would have received a response. The Federation of Poles in Great Britain wrote to the Daily Mail a few months back, complaining that the paper was deliberately encouraging discrimination against immigrants, in particular Poles and their families. It cited more than 50 Daily Mail articles that it argued contained anti-Polish sentiment (including: ‘Polish Borat claims groping women is normal in Eastern Europe’, ‘Polish immigrants take £1bn out of UK Economy’, and ‘Fears for NHS & Schools as 1,000 Polish children are born every month’). After the Daily Mail refused to respond the Polish community appealed to the PCC which arranged for a letter to be published in the paper.

And if they had complained to the Press Complaint Commission? Their complaint would have been rejected. The Commission explicity excludes taste and decency issues from its remit.

The result? If it had been two newspaper journalists there almost certainly would have been virtually no press criticism, few complaints, no apologies, no suspensions, no resignations, no inquiries, no fines.

But because it happened at the BBC? Blanket front page coverage in the national press, over 27,000 complaints, statements by the leaders of both main political parties, the suspension of both presenters (and resignation of one), an official inquiry, the potential of a significant fine for the broadcaster (to be paid out of the Licence Fee).

Written by Martin Moore

October 30th, 2008 at 9:43 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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