Leading article: Another bad day at the BBC

Friday 31 October 2008 01:00
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The Russell Brand affair has claimed its second scalp. After a long and, by all accounts, tense meeting of the BBC Trust, it was announced that the controller of BBC Radio 2, Lesley Douglas, had resigned. Mr Brand himself had resigned 24 hours before, apologising for the crude and obscene messages he and his guest, Jonathan Ross, had left for their planned interviewee, Andrew Sachs, all those days before. Mr Ross has been suspended for 12 weeks – as the BBC emphasised – without pay.

Yet again, the BBC has been true to its exasperating self. As with Andrew Gilligan's Today programme broadcast, as with the mis-editing of "The Queen", as with the various phone-in scandals, the BBC has reacted late, and extravagantly, to a mistake that clearly needed addressing, but should have been dealt with in a matter of hours. That it was not, exposes an organisation so crowded with executives, major and minor, that everyone instinctively flees responsibility.

Of course, in managerial terms, the buck stopped with Ms Douglas. But of all those involved, she was almost the most tangential. There was a whole chain of editorial and executive responsibility beneath her, only one of whom, a 25-year-old producer, has been (unofficially) identified. The requisite procedures were in place: this was a programme prerecorded for a reason: it pushed the boundaries. But at some point the wrong judgement call was made. An individual was in error or a procedure failed. There was a lesson to be learnt. That is all.

Now, the BBC has lost not only one of its most ground-breaking (and reasonably paid) entertainers, but one of its few admired and effective executives as well. Ms Douglas had rebuilt Radio 2's identity and enhanced its appeal; she commanded enormous respect at the BBC and among her peers. It is absurd that she should carry the can for a decision that should have been (and was) taken far below her pay grade.

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