Clarkson, Cameron and Sheikh Hani Al-Siba'i: Nobody is bigger than television

Jeremy Clarkson isn't the only big dog currently being brought to heel by a newly assertive broadcaster

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The Independent Culture

"There's no one show or person that's bigger than the BBC, and that's made clear to anyone who works there." Ha ha! Yeah, good one, Danny Cohen. The director of BBC Television made this joke (presumably) in August last year, shortly after Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson besmirched his bosses' reputation for the umpteenth time by using racist language on camera. Then, for the umpteenth time, Clarkson kept his job, Top Gear continued and so too did the embarrassments, culminating in last week's 'fracas', reportedly over a lack of free food.

Clarkson never was one for pulling his punches, but could it be that, finally, the BBC is fighting back? A press release from the corporation announced that the highly paid star had been suspended and the next two episodes of Top Gear were subsequently pulled from the schedule. Nor is Clarkson the only big dog currently being brought to heel by a newly assertive broadcaster. Sky, Channel 4, ITV and the BBC have all stated their willingness to "empty chair" David Cameron if he fails to show up for the leaders debates, even if former BBC Chairman and Conservative peer Lord Grade describes this as "bullying". Audiences also seem to approve of broadcasters who take a stand. This week's most talked about viral video clip featured Lebanese TV host Rima Karaki switching off the mic, when her blowhard guest, Sheikh Hani Al-Siba'i refused a polite request to stay on topic. "In this studio, I run the show," she said calmly before moving on to the next segment.

TV thrives on big, bold, argumentative personalties. They are credited with generating ratings and revenue and with turning unremarkable programmes into hits - no matter how many other, lesser-paid mortals may also have contributed their labour to the success. But what happens when big personalities grow so large they cast a dark shadow over TV as a whole? They block newer talent from rising to the fore, waste money and, if allowed, can even divert a broadcaster from the principles which were supposed to define it. Surely, at this point, it’s better to get rid, safe in the knowledge that short term costs will be redeemed by long-term integrity. In the case of Clarkson and the BBC, the 'get rid' moment arrived about three years ago. But better late than never.

Is Philip Schofield the most dangerous man on television?

Of course, Clarkson is a harmless teddy bear when compared to the most dangerous man in television, Philip Schofield. Yes, you read that right. As Ofcom investigates complaints about a 50 Shades of Grey-themed sex toys segment, which This Morning saw fit to air at 10.30am, Schofield has been boasting about all the other times he danced on the knife edge of decency.

"As far as I’m concerned, This Morning has always pushed the boundaries," he told the Radio Times. "The first time we did an examination to hopefully safeguard yourself against breast cancer, people were outraged, up in arms. This was shocking, shocking television." For those who rarely switch on a television during working hours, the biggest shock is that he’s right. Daytime TV is racy stuff.

Perhaps because it airs at a time when innocent children are presumed safe at school, This Morning regularly gets away with filth that would make a Soho madam blush. For every scandal - like that time when Schofield accidentally flashed a list of alleged sex offender names to camera - there are many more auto-cue innuendos, which - without fail - cause Schofield and co-presenter Holly Williams to dissolve into fits of giggles.

So while 'Bondage for Beginners' may have been a particular cringer, it was hardly unusual, and OfCom complainants should consider their good fortune - at least Richard Madeley wasn’t still presenting at the time.


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