Not really solving the problem 

7 October 2009

BBC to crack down on swearing and violence

Draft BBC Editorial Guildelines (PDF)


13.3.8 Any plans to re-use, reversion or make available archive material featuring members of the Royal Family or the Royal Palaces (except for news material showing members of the Royal Family carrying out public duties) must be referred to the BBC’s Royal Liaison Officer. (Crowngate)

6.4.19 Deceptions for comedy or entertainment purposes involving those in the public eye will not normally require consent prior to broadcast unless the material was secretly recorded or is likely to result in unjustified public ridicule or personal distress. (Sachsgate)

6.4.20 Any proposal to deceive a contributor for comedy and entertainment purposes, whether or not they are in the public eye, must be referred to a senior editorial figure, or for independents to the commissioning editor, who may consult Editorial Policy. (Sachsgate)

It seems blatantly obvious that these so-called ‘new’ editorial guidelines are fundamentally speaking just existing policy with a few extra bits grafted on in response to so-called concerns caused by various ‘scandals’ over the last few years.

But are these revisions actually justified, and would they have actually prevented the scandals in the first place?

The so-called ‘Crowngate’ (or Queengate) scandal famously involved Her Majesty being reedited in an Autumn season promo, but unless you knew exactly what was going on at the time it was effectively impossible to know that something was amiss, so someone like the “BBC’s Royal Liaison Officer” might not know the full background story.

Therefore any value judgement being made at the time has to be based on the supplied information, and that is in turn subject to human error based on time (and cost) constraints.

Likewise, the ‘Sachsgate’ scandal involving Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross going too far with messages placed on Andrew Sachs’ private answering machine was escalated as far as Radio 2 controller Lesley Douglas prior to broadcast but was waved through at the time despite later (and justified) concerns.

Therefore we can conclude that at least ‘Sachsgate’ wouldn’t have been stopped under ‘normal’ circumstances if these revised rules (albeit in draft form) had been in place at the time, since human error was ultimately responsible for that particular scandal. It’s no good passing something on to someone else if they just blindly accept it in good faith.

And that, it seems, is the crux of the problem, namely that these two incidents arguably related to bad on-the-spot editorial judgments being made as opposed to a hard and fast rule actively being broken, even if there were technical breaches being made along the way on these occasions.

Perhaps the real cause of these two incidents has more to do with the intense pressure being placed on programme makers to deliver a satisfactory ‘product’, therefore a more fundamental approach might ultimately be required in order to correctly reform the production process.

But the BBC is still behaving like a traditional broadcaster, especially under the current management regime who still seems to be much more concerned with damage limitation as opposed to the root-and-branch reform of BBC management being demanded by some Conservative politicians (justified or otherwise).

Nowadays it seems that scandals are perhaps being averted simply because the BBC is now too ‘timid’ as opposed to being bold, but the politicians are usually happy with that sort of scenario anyway.

And finally…

14.2.4 There must be no product placement in programmes.

Which if taken literally will make the production of chat shows (and Top Gear) really difficult.

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