Last Wednesday Mark Thompson was interviewed by Steve Hewlett for The Media Show on Radio 4. Amongst the topics covered in the interview were Thompson's response to the recent Digital Britain proposals, and his strong defence of the reported £18 million paid to Jonathan Ross in a three year contract. Another item discussed was the "Taste, Standards and the BBC" report which was published that day, and was the subject of my blog on 24 June.
I've been in contact with the BBC to try and find out more about the corporation's understanding of "humiliation" in the light of this new study. Scant attention has been afforded in the report to matters of sexual orientation and homophobia. Nevertheless Steve Hewlett did put this to Mark Thompson, but the Director-general appeared unwilling to address the subject. Maybe Mark Thompson feared his anti-political-correctness credentials might suffer if he was ever heard to condemn homophobia.
Excerpt from the interview:-
Steve Hewlett: You've introduced a new guideline. This is new guidance on malicious intrusion, intimidation and humiliation - which I take it to be a pretty direct reference to some of the things that happened in the Ross/Brand case.
Mark Thompson: There were certainly things that happened on that programme which would fit in that rubric. But..
Steve Hewlett: But a lot of listeners would be mightily shocked that the BBC could possibly, under any circumstances, need a guideline to stop people behaving in ways, its own people behaving in ways, that were malicious, intrusive, intimidatory or humiliatory.
Mark Thompson: And to state the obvious, the overwhelming majority of BBC output doesn't include any material, and never has done.
Steve Hewlett: Then why do you need a guideline to stop them doing it?
Mark Thompson: Without making this part of the argument too circular, the Russell Brand Show, you know, emphasised to us that it was probably worth underlining this even more clearly.
Steve Hewlett: But doesn't it stand to reason that the people, the people responsible for authorising the broadcast of that programme didn't think that it was malicious, intrusive, intimidatory or humiliatory, otherwise they wouldn't have authorised the broadcast.
Mark Thompson: But behind that guidance we will absolutely continue to erm talk to, and work with our programme makers across the BBC to worry away at what that consists of.
Steve Hewlett: Do you think a guideline to that effect would stop Ross/Brand happening again?
Mark Thompson: I think that if we had had that guideline, and we'd backed it up, by thinking hard about how it might, might for example, you know relate to the use of practical joke phone calls and so forth, it might well have done. If we get, as it were, get that clear into all of our programme makers' head[s] - yes the chances of another Russell Brand happening would be much lower in the future.
Steve Hewlett: So is some of the stuff that one hears on Radio 1, with alarming or boring regularity depending upon your point of view - some of the homophobia and some of the Chris Moyles stuff he's been criticised for, and regulators have found against him for doing - is Radio 1 even vaguely consistent with this broader purpose? Or is that kind of material consistent with that broader purpose?
Mark Thompson: I'm saying that there are absolute boundaries. Now these are ..
Steve Hewlett: You've got a service which seems to be based on crossing them.
Mark Thompson: I don't believe that's the case. I mean the idea that jokey you know jokey banter and erm erm ...
Steve Hewlett: Homophobic banter?
Mark Thompson: Well no I mean the, the .. you know I'm afraid Steve, you know this is a world where you have to judge each programme on its merits, and you know when programmes overstep the mark, we need to try and make sure the programme makers understand that and stop them doing that in the future .....