BBC Radio Branded over Sachsgate
Ofcom has fined the BBC a total of £150,000 for breaches of Ofcom’s Broadcasting Code in two episodes of the Russell Brand show broadcast on BBC Radio 2 on the 18 and 25 October 2008.
In its report, the media regulator catalogued a series of errors on the BBC’s part, also drawing reference to ‘the extraordinary nature and seriousness of the BBC’s failures’.
The fallout from the broadcast – where Brand and fellow broadcaster Jonathan Ross broadcast explicit, intimate and confidential information about Georgina Baillie, the granddaughter of the actor Andrew Sachs without their consent – saw Brand and head of Radio 2 Lesley Douglas resign and Ross suspended. Ofcom stated that their behaviour ‘unwarrantably and seriously infringed their privacy but was also gratuitously offensive, humiliating and demeaning.’
Ofcom also identified underlying flaws in the BBC’s compliance systems including a lack of clarity about the exact role of a senior figure at the agency that represents Russell Brand, as the Executive Producer, the failure of the Executive Producer to attend a BBC Safeguarding Trust compliance course, despite this being a condition of the production contract. The failure of the Executive Producer to sign off compliance forms for these programmes. An unacceptable conflict of interest for the Line Producer seconded from the BBC on a part-time basis to the independent production company making Russell Brand; and a lack of clarity about who at the BBC had editorial oversight of the series.
The BBC was also censured for repeating the material that Ofcom referred to as, ‘exceptionally offensive, humiliating and demeaning.’ It was also noted that no senior manager at Radio 2 listened to the pre-recorded programme of 18 October 2008 in its entirety before broadcast, that there was a failure to obtain the informed consent of Andrew Sachs and there was no attempt at all to obtain consent from Georgina Baillie as required by Ofcom’s Code and the BBC’s own Editorial Guidelines.
The media regulator levelled two fines at the Corporation for breaches of the Code, £70,000 and £80,000 respectively and has also directed BBC Radio 2 to broadcast a summary of its findings.
In response to the ruling, the BBC issued the following statement: "We accept Ofcom's findings. As we said last October, this material should never have been broadcast and we apologised unreservedly for that. We note that Ofcom has found that senior management acted swiftly to mitigate the offence and damage caused by the breaches of the Code.
"The BBC has since taken comprehensive action to deal with what were unacceptable failures in editorial judgement and compliance which led to the broadcast. This has included a comprehensive review of compliance across Audio & Music, and a new policy ensuring presenters and their agents cannot be the Executive Producer responsible for compliance on their own shows."