Agencies, press take BBC to task

PR agencies and journalists have criticised the BBC's handling of this week's fast-developing story about the conduct of Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand.

Ross: suspended along with Brand
Ross: suspended along with Brand

One insider said it was especially surprising in light of the fact that the BBC issued a ‘draconian’ PR manual after last year’s gaffe surrounding the documentary A Year With The Queen.

Ross and Brand were suspended yesterday following calls for sackings led by the Daily Mail, but many said the BBC’s move had come too late.

‘They lost control of it,’ said Braben MD Matt Bourn. ‘Had they been more decisive earlier on, they could have reduced the impact.’

Another agency source, who asked not to be named, said: ‘It does look as though there was a full 36 hours between the first Mail article and an apology.’

A third source revealed that a manual was distributed to the BBC’s agencies after July 2007’s Queen documentary debacle when a trailer for the show wrongly implied the Queen had walked out in a ‘huff’.

The 75-page document outlined protocol for how press launches should be run.

‘They rewrote the rulebook after The Queen,’ said the source. ‘It’s pretty draconian. One assumes that a top-to-bottom review of crisis management procedure would have been conducted at the same time.’

Journalists agreed the BBC had not learned lessons from the Queen documentary.

One senior national showbiz journalist said: ‘The BBC press office is doing what it usually does: trotting out statements but nothing more, and hiding behind the fact a review is under way.’

The journalist added that everything the national paper had got from the BBC had come from non-press office sources.

‘I don’t think they’ve learned anything from The Queen debacle,’ the source added. ‘They have done the same thing of failing to spot an enormous story, failing to stamp it out early, only issuing a statement on Monday once it had appeared in every paper and become a much bigger story. ’

BBC director of audio and music Tim Davie was also criticised. The journalist said: ‘He put the BBC’s case back by a mile, refusing to criticise Ross and Brand and calling them brilliant entertainers. Duh.’

Another top showbiz journalist said of the BBC’s corporate press office: ‘It’s incredibly slow. The only thing they seem to have learned is to tie themselves up in red tape.

Timeline

29 November Newspapers report that Gordon Brown called the presenters ‘offensive and inappropriate’. Director general Mark Thompson states that the BBC is suspending them

28 November Wide newspaper coverage of BBC apology to Sachs. Daily Mail calls for presenters to be sacked. Tim Davie refuses to criticise them. The Daily Telegraph dubs his comments ‘astonishingly
ill-judged’

27 November ‘Brand on rack over obscene phone calls’ shouts Daily Mail. The Times claims the BBC is ‘under pressure to hold an inquiry’. No apology from the BBC

26 November The Mail on Sunday breaks story that the BBC could face prosecution over Ross and Brand’s calls to Andrew Sachs


400k Regular audience of Russell Brand’s Radio 2 show

2 Number of complaints after the show was aired

18k Number of complaints at the time of going to press

36 Estimated hours it took BBC to respond after story broke

£18m Jonathan Ross’ reputed three-year BBC pay deal

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