Stricter controls follow Brand-Ross fiasco

PA Reporters
Friday 31 October 2008 10:59 GMT

BBC Trust chairman Sir Michael Lyons today called for tighter editorial controls after the obscene phone-calls furore.

Sir Michael blamed poor editorial judgment for the incident on Radio 2's Russell Brand show but insisted that the corporation should not "retrench" as a result of the row.

He appeared to welcome the resignation of Radio 2 controller Lesley Douglas, saying it was fitting for those with responsibility to be held to account.

But he said the obscene comments were "completely unacceptable" and should not have been made in the first place.

Some people have called for the sacking of star presenter Jonathan Ross, who has been suspended without pay for three months, costing him around £1.5 million.

Together with Brand, he left messages on Fawlty Towers actor Andrew Sachs' answer phone in which they said Brand had slept with his granddaughter, Georgina Baillie.

Sir Michael said matters of discipline were up to the BBC director-general Mark Thompson.

He said on the BBC Breakfast TV programme: "The most important thing people want to hear from me is that the BBC takes its responsibilities for standards seriously, is tightening editorial control and recognises that what happened on October 18 on the Russell Brand programme was completely unacceptable.

"The public have a right to expect that anybody charged with responsibility for editorial control in the BBC knows the difference between what you should broadcast and what you shouldn't.

"The director-general responded quickly to the issues. He's come up with a clear action plan that doesn't just concentrate on this programme but also gives us some confidence that we can focus in on programmes that are bound to be riskier. Yes he does have our confidence and I think he has acted with courage in taking these matters on."

He said the BBC Trust, which met with Mr Thompson yesterday, has "laid down very clear demands for tighter editorial controls".

Earlier, Sir Michael told the BBC's Today Programme: "What this incident shows is that there are still areas of the BBC where the editorial responsibilities are not being taken seriously enough and they need to be reinforced."

But he added: "The BBC should not back off from taking risks, being provocative, whether it's in terms of the journalism you do or whether it's in terms of entertainment."

The BBC will be hoping Ross's three-month ban and the resignation of the Radio 2 boss will draw a line under the crisis.

Yesterday BBC director-general Mark Thompson said: "A 12-week suspension is an exceptional step, but I believe it is a proportionate response to Jonathan's role in this unhappy affair.

"We agree that nothing like this must ever happen again and that tight discipline will be required for the future.

"I believe Jonathan absolutely overstepped the mark. It doesn't mean that Jonathan can't, in future, continue to broadcast for the BBC. But he and everyone else should accept this is a final warning."

Commenting on the loss of Ms Douglas, Mr Thompson said that "ultimate responsibility" for such incidents lay with "executive producers, producers and controllers".

Ms Douglas, who has revived Radio 2 by attracting a new audience of 30-somethings, said it was right that she took responsibility for the phone calls and the decision to resign was hers alone.

The controller said: "It is a matter of the greatest possible sadness to me that a programme on my network has been the cause of such a controversy."

More than 35,000 complaints have since flooded into the BBC, and the DJs have both apologised to Sachs.

Brand quit his Radio 2 show on Wednesday, saying he took "complete responsibility" for the calls.

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