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23 March 2009 tbs.pm/1034

Chris Moyles reprimanded over ‘gay’ spoof lyrics to Will Young song

The BBC has a problem. Indeed it has several problems, but a recurring theme in recent years seems to be exactly how to deal with its on-air talent. Or not to, as in the case of the recent ‘Sachsgate’ affair that cost Russell Brand his Radio 2 show along with the ‘fireproof’ Jonathan Ross losing some of his credibility in the process.

Much if not all of the blame lay with the ‘hands-off’ approach to compliance checking in relation to the relatively recent use of independent production companies – something that Auntie Beeb is only just getting used to handling – but even the veteran in this field, namely Channel 4, can still have similar problems of its own after all this time.

Presenters being left to their own devices (and causing mischief in the process) is one thing, but a separate related issue concerns why various presenters like Chris Moyles, Russell Brand, Jonathan Ross, etc., were given prime slots in the first place.

Whether you like them or not, these presenters are popular with (or at least tolerated by) a large section of the audience, but one reason for their popularity lies with the fact that they happen to be opinionated. There is a significant risk with live radio shows that they can overstep the mark, therefore this risk needs to be properly handled and assessed.

However with someone who is very popular there’s also the problem of how to effectively deal with them, since the BBC seems determined to hang on to presenters like Chris Moyles in order to attract that certain much-prized (and supposedly needed) demographic to Radio 1 in the first place. Letting Moyles go makes that job a fair deal harder.

Therefore the BBC has a real problem on its hands in terms of effectively controlling presenters such as Moyles, and this has been made worse to an extent by the way Jonathan Ross had been treated (namely, a period of suspension), since that sent out a message to errant presenters that the BBC is a ‘soft touch’ on those who they depend on.

It’s no good sacking people for misnaming cats on Blue Peter when people who have great influence over sections of society are allowed to hold down high profile presenting careers despite previous bad form and failed attempts to control them. What was that cat called again?

Then there’s the overreliance on a dwindling pool of presenters on both television and radio, which was partly caused by big money contracts coupled with a requirement for the BBC to obtain “their money’s worth” out of them on behalf of the licence fee-payer. This however has in turn upped the liability that is attached to any one presenter at a given time.

If the BBC were to let Moyles go at this time, he may have to accept a pay cut if he was to work for the commercial sector at this point of time during a recession, even though his relative popularity with the Radio 1 target audience is often the subject of jealousy from the commercial radio industry.

Of course the BBC may stand to lose money (plus audience share) if a particular presenter has been given an expensive contract before being sacked, but there’s also the question of finding a suitable and popular replacement as a consequence, especially with a prestigious slot such as the Radio 1 breakfast show.

The only long term solution is for the BBC to properly nurture and promote even more fresh on-air talent, which is something that commercial radio in particular has significantly pulled back on in recent times as a result of a mass consolidation process that arguably stands next to no chance of fixing its fundamental problems.

Indeed this consolidation process means that the BBC has ironically less to fear in relation to new talent being poached by the commercial sector, since radio opportunities in particular have become much more limited in recent times. And I’m sure that there are more than a few ex-commercial radio presenters who may deserve slots on BBC radio stations.

There may have been a good presenter lurking inside Chris Moyles at one time, but his reputation has been successively damaged through a lack of discipline, and each high profile incident erodes that trust one step at a time. Some of his target audience may still find him funny but the BBC really needs live presenters that are much, much more than that.

Indeed Moyles may not be quite as indispensable that some within the BBC might like to think, especially given the relatively low debut audience figure for his new series on Channel 4, which seems to suggest that this particular kind of personality that works on radio may not easily translate to other media, format(s) permitting of course.

Sacking Chris Moyles at this juncture would also send out a signal to its target audience that any misbehaviour is certainly not OK to emulate in real life. If they don’t then the BBC may not be able to escape the mounting criticism that may follow along with the long term consequences that could result from any future faux pas.

The long term future of the licence fee might just depend on it.

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Liverpool, Wednesday 22 May 2024