Last October, establishment eejits Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand left obscene messages on the actor Andrew Sach's answerphone, concerning his grand-daughter Georgina Baillie.
The BBC initially lied and said it had not received a complaint from Mr Sachs before some of the egregious material was replayed on Brand's show the next week. It then tried to smear its own constituency of licence-fee payers for not being quick off the mark about complaining, which probably reflected Brand's miniscule audience more than anything else; but when journalists, notably the Mail's Melanie Phillips, made the public aware of what had happened, complaints poured in until the broadcasting regulator Ofcom had over 40,000 of the things. The BBC then tried to snatch the Gordon Brown prize for speedily mustering the lifeboats on the ship you've just scuttled and demanded praise for suspending Ross for 3 months without pay (Brand having confirmed his reputation as a serial resigner).
Ofcom released its report on the affair today, containing its decision - as the Telegraph's Digital and Media Correspondent Urmee Khan reports - to fine the BBC £150,000. Ross's suspension is key to understanding why the fine is, in Telegraph blogger Janet Daly's words, small change to the Corporation.
Jonathan Ross is famously on a £18,000,000 ($26,250,000) contract for three years with the BBC, so a three-month suspension without pay has saved the BBC £1,500,000. It is therefore disingenuous of Ofcom to state that it set the BBC's fine at a lower threshold in comparison to other public service broadcasters because "any fine would be taken from monies paid by the public (the licence fee payer)", as the fine leaves the BBC quids in to the tune of £1.35m of licence fee payers' money - and I suspect the Corporation will argue that it now has the moral authority to declare the matter closed.
But this declaration of fine principles on the part of Ofcom comes in page 34 of a 37-page document. Janet Daley's exposé of the obfuscation is crystal-clear:
Hacking your way through this management gibberish - this risible catalogue of compliance systems, compulsory Safeguarding Trust courses and proactive testing - you might long to see a reference to common sense, not to say common decency. Do professional broadcasters now have to attend training courses to be told that leaving obscene messages on the answering machine of an elderly man is not simply "inappropriate" but morally repugnant behaviour?It's good that the BBC has responded to 40,000+ complaints, but disappointing that it aired Jerry Springer: The Opera in the face of a third as many again protests. Conservative leader David Cameron has called for the BBC's licence fee to be frozen for a year in response to the recession. I hope this is a prologue to disestablishing the broadcaster, so that it can be as offensive as it wants without those of us presently indebted to it by statute having to pay for the privelege.