Media must get over its fear of 'The Talent'

Media must get over its fear of ‘The Talent’

The media industries now condemning Russell Brand should examine their role in the scandal, and ensure staff can independently report ‘The Talent’ when they see similar behaviour.

It is too early to know right now whether allegations of rape and sexual assault against Russell Brand — which the comedian and presenter denies — will lead to a criminal charge.

But, as more women have come forward, extending the range beyond the five who co-operated with the meticulous investigations by The Times, Sunday Times and Dispatches Channel 4 programme, many will hope that Brand receives his day in court.

The Metropolitan Police is now on the case and is investigating allegations of sexual assault.

The more important truth is that Brand is already losing, perhaps belatedly, in the court of public opinion, apart from among members of a dwindling band of deranged fellow conspiracy theorists.

His media career is now effectively over, increasingly even in the outer reaches of online la la land where the remnants of his career currently reside.

He is now being dropped like a hot potato by everyone who was once happy to take his money or support, everyone from publicists, publishers and agents to charities. Yesterday it was revealed that YouTube has blocked ads from the videos he publishes.

As a confirmed narcissist, Brand is unlikely to spend much time on introspection. But it is time for the media industries to examine their role in creating, and sustaining this truly disgusting human being.

Long ago Sir Bob Geldof publicly summed him up with a four-letter word too obvious for any need to repeat.

The media now condemning Brand has questions to answer

Many organisations not least the BBC, Channel 4, the Labour Party, and a number of national newspapers now condemning Brand all have questions to ask of themselves.

The Guardian, now wondering how could the people working with him not have known about the allegations, was happy to employ him as a columnist from 2006 to 2015 and serialised over three days the first volume of his autobiography Booky Wook.

The Sun yesterday was asking of Brand’s female accusers: “How Many More?” But was happy to anoint him as “Shagger of the Year” three years running, in what now sounds like an unpleasant echo from a distant planet.

Brand’s BBC career came to an end in 2008 with his Radio 2 “prank” with Jonathan Ross, leaving messages on the phone of the late Fawlty Towers star Andrew Sacks boasting of sleeping with his granddaughter.

Inexplicably the messages were broadcast leading to the end of the BBC career of then Radio 2 controller Lesley Douglas, more than 40,000 complaints to the BBC and an Ofcom fine of £150,000.

The BBC now has many more questions to answer about Brand from terrorising the programme’s female news reader, to allegedly peeing in a bottle in the studio in front of other staff and guests and whether a BBC car was sent to take a 16-year-old from school to Brand’s house.

The BBC is now investigating of course but has refused, or ignored, Freedom of Information requests from The Times and Sunday Times about concerns raised by staff about Brand’s behaviour at the BBC.

Channel 4 also has questions to answer about Brand’s involvement in the Big Brother spin-off programme, first called Big Brother’s EFourum and then Big Brother’s Big Mouth.

Staff on the Endemol-made programme say everybody knew that Brand was “a predator” and that they felt like pimps getting the phone numbers of women in the audience for him.

However, the same staff also noted that there would be a different woman waiting at the end of the show every night for a date with Brand.

There should also be a moment’s reflection by former Labour leader Ed Miliband who sucked up to Brand as a hoped for conduit to the youth vote.

There is still the fear of ‘The Talent’

Leaving aside his reputation as a sexual predator, not just Miliband but sections of the thinking media, including Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight, seemed to take Brand seriously as a universal autodidact.

Mail on Sunday columnist Peter Hitchens, not everyone’s cup of tea, challenged Brand publicly, particularly on his attitude to drug abuse and has questioned why he was ever given a place in the national debate.

“Arguing seriously with such a person is like trying to play chess with a squirrel, which might move the occasional piece without any real idea what it was doing, but at the next moment will overturn the board, scattering the pawns, kings and queens, and chattering shrilly as it does so,” Hitchens wrote in yesterday’s Daily Mail.

Dispatches was also spot on when it called its TV Brand investigation: “In Plain Sight.”

And that seems to be the story for a long line of media miscreants some of whose activities were more serious than others, with the late Jimmy Savile and the late Rolf Harris at the top of this particular tree.

Lots of people knew but little happened because the common factor is The Talent, fear of upsetting them, fear of losing them, and for more junior staff, fear of damaging their careers if they reported unacceptable behaviour.

Dorothy Byrne, former head of news and current affairs at Channel 4, described the Brand revelations as “Television’s Me Too” moment.

For that to happen more people must feel able to come forward about Brand’s behaviour, most of which appears to have happened at least a decade ago, and any successors.

Staff, however, must be able to report any members of The Talent exploiting the imbalance in power between those whose fame and fortune are created in front of the cameras and those who make their achievements possible.

What is to be done?

Two possible answers on Russell Brand and others who would emulate him came in interviews on Radio 4’s Today programme this week.

One came from Lorraine Heggessey, former Controller of BBC One, who suggested that broadcasting staff had to have an independent place to go to report complaints outside their own organisation.

This week the UK’s public service broadcasters have demonstrated they can co-operate to launch an online Freeview service next year. Perhaps together with the independent producers group Pact, the broadcasters could create a safe haven for complainants maybe even across all of the UK’s creative industries.

More tellingly David Yelland, former editor of The Sun — not when the paper was running Shagger of the Year competitions — suggested that Brand’s current media homes, YouTube, Instagram and TikTok should take action.

It was as if YouTube owners Google was listening and now Brand can no longer make money out of his YouTube contributions by selling ads, something that brought in £1m a year.

Instagram and TikTok should follow and if they do not advertisers should have a care about associating their brands with Russell Brand, a self-declared scumbag whether what he did turns out to have been legal or not.

He has already fatally undermined his own Brand.

Raymond Snoddy is a media consultant, national newspaper columnist and former presenter of NewsWatch on BBC News. He writes for The Media Leader on Wednesdays — read his column here.

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