Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Manuelgate: My Spin

I did something wrong recently. When I get something wrong I try to apologise. I haven't yet heard back from the person to whom my apology was directed, but it set me thinking about where my limits for decent behaviour are.

Manuelgate (or Sachsgate as I read elsewhere), the recently highly publicised incident where two radio presenters, Jonathon Ross and Russell Brand, used a recorded radio show to broadcast to the UK that Brand had slept with the grand-daughter of former Fawlty Towers co-star Andrew Sachs, is the backdrop I will use. My esteem for Brand has grown following the incident, and my esteem for Ross has diminished. This is the first time I have blogged about Manuelgate and I hope that by posting this now I will shed some light on my own moral position.

In summary Brand had slept with Sachs' grand-daughter, and had confided in Ross that this was the case. Between them they had thought it would be funny to ring up Sachs while they were on air, and to somehow "blurt out" this fact. The radio show was recorded, and has it happened Sachs did not answer his telephone. Brand and Ross did not have the sense to realise the potential dangers of recording such a revelation on Sachs' answerphone, and allowing the recorded radio programme on which appeared to be broadcast. In fact a number of calls were made to Sachs' answerphone machine in which Brand and Ross tried to "apologise". I put apologise in quotes because these were parodies of an apology, in which the two radio presenters were trying to be funny.

The BBC received a small number of complaints following the actual broadcast, but one of the people who was offended was Andrew Sachs. In a later broadcast Brand tried to apologise, but ruined the effect when he claimed that whatever was said before was in mitigation "funny".

Laughing "at" people isn't funny, laughing "with" people is. If I say "Slobodan is a slob" it is just an insult. If I change it to "Slobodan acts like a slob" I might be able to get some sort of comedic value out of the statement, and I make a risk because "acts like" is my judgement of his actions, and I might be wrong. To be funny, attack peoples actions, not the people themselves. To expand it fully, take a risk by judging the value of what they have done, and whether you believe it was worth the effort or not. If I say "Slobodan acts like a slob", he might say "I know I do, but never as slobbish as you". I am allowing Slobodan to embellish the story, and together we have made a "joke". Given the right context, it could be funny. If I had lazily just sad "Slobodan is a slob", what comeback does he have? What room have I left him to embellish the story?

We are all entitled to judge peoples actions, but not their reputations. You cannot create a "reputation" for someone else being a slob just by repeating the accusation, you have to go round to Slobodan's house and see whether it is tidy or not. If it is tidy, then you, and I should emphasize the word you, are a fool. You have said something which is not true. If you have said something which is not true, being big enough to apologise to the person directly, is a sign of your worth.

Brand and Ross were attempting to shock Sachs with their "revelation". Who cares who Brand has slept with, I don't. Similarly I don't broadcast who I've slept with. It's a private, intimate moment and that's how it will stay. But because Sachs is undoubtedly a loving man he would have been most uncomfortable for this to have come out via a radio broadcast. Brand and Ross were trying make Sachs uncomfortable and then were going to laugh at him. This is wrong. It's not humour, it is bullying. Had I heard the broadcast myself (I didn't) I would have been offended. What does offend me is that as a TV licence holder, some of that fee went on making a series of offensive telephone calls. The BBC has a reputation, and that reputation was being damaged by two of it's presenters breaking the law.

Sachs certainly, and possibly his grand-daughter could have gone to the police to raise a complaint. Sachs certainly is a forgiving man, and he didn't want to prolong the furore which developed when more and more licence holders understood what had happened.

So why is my respect for Brand enhanced, but not for Ross? Brand made a poor attempt at an apology, which made matters worse, then he made a decent apology where he showed proper respect for the work of Andrew Sachs. Further to this he resigned from his radio show at the BBC. He was helping to take the heat out of the situation by removing himself from the equation. BBC executives were not forced for too long to fret over whether they should sack him. Brand walked away.

Ross also made an apology. But he did not resign. Now his artist integrity is being questioned by the BBC who have placed restrictions on his performances. This is a far more serious problem for Ross than a three month suspension. It indicates that the BBC no longer trusts Ross to get it right on his own.

Ross is entitled to behave as he likes, but his reputation is now becoming damaged. The "message" the BBC sends out is don't trust this man. If you can read messages like this you will understand that Ross is nothing but a bully who egged Brand on. Brand is man enough to walk away, Ross believes a man has to stand his ground.

Anyone want to take a bet on whether Ross is sacked before or after he returns to the BBC? My guess is he will return, but he will be sacked before his contract reaches its end. Even Tangoman knows a bully when he sees one. Do you?

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