MPs losing patience with BBC

Labour and Conservative MPs have spoken out against the BBC in the wake of the ongoing media furore over a practical joke played by BBC radio hosts Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross.

The presenters and the BBC were forced to apologise to Fawlty Towers actor Andrew Sachs after Brand and Ross joked about having sex with Sachs’ granddaughter during a pre-recorded show, broadcast on October 18th.

Sachs, 78, was said to be “very upset” by voicemails left by the pair, during Brand’s Saturday evening programme on BBC Radio 2.

And media watchdog Ofcom has announced it will launch an investigation into the incident, pledging it will “protect audiences and citizens from harm” by enforcing its broadcasting code.

Labour backbencher Alan Simpson’s criticism centres on their failure to sack Ross and Brand for their “gross, tasteless and offensive behaviour”. He believes they should be “subject to instant dismissal” and is against the perceived special treatment they are receiving.

“The real damage to the character and culture of public service broadcasting comes, when it allows audience rating figures, for media celebrities, to override the norms and rules that apply to employment contracts for everyone else,” he commented.

“The litmus test for the BBC is not whether it can find someone at the lower end of the production ladder to scapegoat for these actions, but whether it will take decisive action to sack the perpetrators.”

Conservative MP Roger Gale goes further, saying the BBC’s director-general Mark Thompson should take direct responsibility for editorial failures.

“I believe that the BBC management has squandered a huge reservoir of residual public support and affection and that the time has come when either the trustees must show their mettle or parliament must, reluctantly, intervene,” he said.

“We cannot allow overpriced vulgarity to continue to be a substitute for talent and creativity.”

John Whittingdale, chairman of the culture media and sport committee, told BBC News 24 he believed the “significant failure” which requires investigation is why “editors believed this was suitable for transmission”.

He said he thought the content overstepped the mark “by a considerable way” and did not believe other media outlets were covering the story because of an attempt to criticise the BBC.

Mr Whittingdale added: “I don’t think it is BBC-bashing for the sake of it. I think the BBC is only getting bashed because it shouldn’t have happened. The BBC is rightly coming in for criticism.”