BBC fails the online Brand damage limitation test

Martin Belam by Martin Belam, 29 October 2008

One of the joys of having the web as a corporate communication channel is that it is very flexible and can be very, very dynamic. Not all businesses take full advantage of that, though. The BBC has not been very nimble in its response to the Brand / Ross / Sachs sex scandal, and this has been especially true on the web.

Brand & Ross

At lunchtime today, even as the Corporation announced the suspension of Ross and Brand, if you visited /programmes on bbc.co.uk it was the smirking face of Ross that greeted you.

BBC Programmes homepage

If you visited the Russell Brand programme homepage, there was no mention of the story or any apology.

Russell Brand site

Brand's BBC blog hadn't been updated since October 15th, before the offensive episode of the programme was even transmitted.

The Russell Brand blog

Search results for 'russell brand' turned up at #1 an editorial best link championing him as "The most exciting comedian of his generation".

Russell Brand search on bbc.co.uk

If you visited the BBC Radio 2 homepage, in the presenter's slot they were telling you that Wogan had just come back from holiday, but the puff-piece for Jonathan Ross was talking about Trinny & Susannah, not Andrew Sachs.

BBC Radio 2 homepage excerpt

I was running the technical side of the BBC homepage and channel pages in 2005 during the "Jerry Springer: The Opera" complaints campaign. At that time it really felt that the BBC was under siege, and it is under pressure that weaknesses in technical and editorial processes are exposed.

After the Jerry Springer episode, I felt the BBC should have put together a web S.W.A.T. squad for these kind of incidents. Never mind the plethora of CMS systems and different departments and teams looking after the various branches of bbc.co.uk, there should have been a concerted response on the website, lead by a direct line from the Director-General's Office, empowered and technically equipped to make urgent and rapid changes to the website.

I'm sure the BBC's press officers have been frantically working with the national newspapers all day trying to influence what will be in tomorrow's headlines. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Licence Fee payers will have visited all of these places on bbc.co.uk, and got the firm impression that the BBC wasn't reacting to the crisis at all. In service design terms, the Radio 2 homepage, Russell Brand blog & show pages, and the search engine results are all 'touch points' that failed today to deliver the right user experience.

If it had been up to me, every potential entry point on bbc.co.uk for people wanting to react to the story should have displayed the BBC's response straight away. At the minimum they should have all been carrying links to:

The complaint site did at least have the BBC's response on the homepage - but overall it was a poor show from the BBC today in terms of responding to this crisis on their own website.

BBC Complaints homepage today

8 Comments

Bit slow off the mark Martin. The Radio 2 page for Russell was changed this afternoon to show the apology and was changed again this evening to remove all but a picture of Russell and a note that the programme had ended.

The Mail published their front page a week after the broadcast. The BBC took three days after the Mail's 'revelation' to edit their websites. I posted this about 10 hours after taking the screen grabs - that's pretty quick by the standards of this story!

I complained to Ofcom recently about two other programmes. In reply they said no material is barred to writers of comedy programmes.
Yet in fact such is the total commitment to the left-liberal stance that a BBC comedy programme that in any way suggested an opposite position is inconceivable. This attitude is so entrenched that it was clear from a correspondence with the complaints spokesperson, Vis Karunaratne, that he/she had no idea what I was writing about. It was like discussing cricket with an American - we did not even share a vocabulary. Remarks by the Chair of the BBC Trust show the same attitude. It is of course polite but immovable arrogance; we face it daily in dealing with local authorities and the faceless voices in all the welfare departments. They all know the liturgy of the human rights religion but in practice are militant atheists. They have power over us now to a degree which is reminiscent of the old USSR, a country run by corrupt bureaucrats, sunk in indolent incompetence, energetic only in oppression, a nation dulled by a diet of vodka, but posturing like a punch-drunk heavyweight champion.
Have you heard or read a single word challenging the folly of building two huge oil-powered aircraft carriers? This silence speaks loudly of censorship. I wrote to Monbiot, to the Chair of the Green Alliance, to Dr Caroline Lucas the new leader of the Green Party and received an even more ear-splitting silence. With the present Home Secretary anything is possible and thumbscrews for errant journalists are no doubt being designed in a vault below Whitehall. Why otherwise does this lavish folly not rouse the ranting Marks and the comics of the Now Show, ardent enemies of war, especially waged by U-S and -K?

The most depressing aspect of the BBC crisis is the pathetic figure of the DG, the successor to Reith and William Haley. Every organisation soon dances to the tunes played by the boss, and he's playing an ill-tuned electric guitar with the power off.

I presume that the BEEB are hopeful that the worst of the Brand/Ross affair is past, and that your derisory 3 month ban on your revered J.R. is going to absolve you from any further consequences arising out of this woeful example of the depths that Aunty BEEB has sunk to.
I suspect not, I am of the opinion that there are a great number of people who have had their complacency thoroughly shaken, and will consider the degree and extent of the success of the protest in which they participated in such impressive numbers. Although the outcome was only partially successful, it contains a lesson worth learning for the future, as no doubt the conflict of interests in this area which has remained a vexed question to date is not going to go away, especially as we see our money being squandered to such an intolerable degree on a level of programming so low and unacceptable. We are now aware to an extent that we could not have thought probable before of a voice which should be heard more often, even become more organised and effective.
The Ivory Tower of the BEEB was shaken on this occasion, its not invulnerable, is there room for a lay body representing the licence payers who care about what the BBC should represent, with a veto on management decisions on policy or funds, or both? After all, the funding of the organisation is by public subscription - compulsory on pain of a fine if not paid - a form of taxation in any language, which reminds me of an old American War of Independence slogan....No Taxation Without Representation.... that sounds good enough for me P.S. - Just to say that I do not have any time for your mindless proof of my status as a living being and the submission of my contribution being dependent upon my partipation in your sad little game regarding making the required entry in the box below, however the power of sensorship has rested in the hands of some sadder cases than your good self. I suppose it could be worse. If it would help you in any way to confirm my human status beyond all doubt I will even supply you with the name and address of my dentist!

The DG of the BBC is living in an ivory tower with his recent comment that the BBC have to try out "edgy" and "innovate" programmes and presenters when he was once again talking about Brand and Ross! As a licence payer if this recent vocal filth from Brand and Ross directed so cruelly towards Mr Sachs is "edgy" and "innovate" the DG has appalling judgement and is no better than Brand and Ross. Ross should be sacked but of course the DG does not have the "bottle" to sack this disgraceful person!
I wonder what Ross and Brand and the DG would have done if this was directed towards them or their families? Seems all type of filth is fine by the DG as long as it NIMBY!

There should be constraints on the materials available to comedians, then there wouldn't be these kinds of incidents.

Lisa, that would infringe a bit on free speech, something every British etc person has. Comedians should be able to say what they want, and from time to time tread a thin line, that's what makes some of them really great. But if they cross that line then they may damage their profile and take some flak. However I don't like the way BBC has handled this by trying to ignore it and whiz on.

Hi Lisa,

Wow, why stop there? Why not put constraints on all media channels - newspapers, television etc.

In all seriousness, freedom of speech is a given, but with it should come a certain level of responsibility on the part of the individual. I'm afraid messrs Brand and Ross failed in that regard.

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