The BBC failed to act quickly enough to avoid reputational and organisational damage during this week’s media storm over the controversial radio broadcast by comedian Russell Brand and presenter Jonathan Ross, according to an employment legal expert.
Beth McPherson, associate at law firm Stephenson Harwood, said the BBC should have acted swiftly through its existing processes and management structure to deal with the incident.
Ross and Brand dominated the headlines this week after the BBC aired a radio show in which they left a series of phone messages for former Faulty Towers actor Andrew Sachs.
In an improvised and expletive-laden message, Ross claimed Brand had slept with Sachs’ granddaughter Georgina Baillie – a member of burlesque group the Satanic Sluts – and said that Sachs might kill himself as a result of the news.
Although the BBC broadcast the programme on 18 October, Brand, Ross and the BBC did not make any apologies until this week. The corporation gave employers a good lesson in how not to deal with wayward employees, McPherson said.
“It took a long time to respond, and when they did, it was not very firmly, and did not involve the people responsible,” she said.
Although Ross and Brand made the prank calls, the decision to broadcast them was made by BBC managers, McPherson added. Responding to public outcry, the BBC has now lost popular comic Brand and well-respected Radio 2 controller Lesley Douglas, both of whom resigned this week.
Businesses caught up in public controversy should not hesitate in evoking predetermined management processes, McPherson insisted. “Act swiftly and strongly within a proper management structure that gives you an easy and quick way of establishing whose fault it is,” she said.
“The risk if you do not is losing people that you wanted to keep. The BBC has lost the head of Radio 2, a valuable employee who was highly regarded and far removed from the incident. It has also lost Russell Brand, and whatever you think about him, he brought in a lot of listeners.”
The incident also caused huge reputational damage to the BBC through a lack of management control, McPherson said. “The BBC employs Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross partly to shock people, but when they do exactly that, the organisation does not have the processes in place to keep them in check.”