Suspension of judgement? 

30 October 2008 tbs.pm/966

By suspending Ross and Brand, BBC boss Mark Thompson reveals himself a coward

No matter what Mark Thompson and other BBC executives say or do from now onwards in relation to the ongoing ‘Sachsgate’ crisis, there will always be someone somewhere who will judge and criticise the inevitable outcome. So is Mark Thompson putting in a flawless performance or are there just grounds for criticism in this case?

Given the immediate set of circumstances surrounding the furore, I feel that Mark Thompson’s decision to suspend the pair was the correct measure to take at the time, especially given the public interest shown in this incident, rightly or wrongly.

If Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand hadn’t been suspended, the political pressure for something immediate to be done – regardless of the nature and severity of this event – would have become overwhelming and Mark Thompson’s job would have immediately been on the line as a result.

Russell Brand was right to subsequently resign from his Radio 2 show given the set of circumstances, and the move ensures that his career and reputation will remain reasonably intact after the storm has passed. Brand’s annual salary (£300k, from memory) is a fraction of what Ross earns, so he has considerably less to lose by resigning.

But by resigning, Brand has now placed immense pressure on Jonathan Ross to follow suit, and since the stakes are much higher for Ross in terms of reputation and lost income (ITV for one thing may balk at offering the same sort of pay deal given the current economic climate), what happens next will be critical for all concerned.

Keeping Ross on board could prove to be immensely damaging for BBC management, especially given the very public criticism of Ross’s salary in the past (regardless of his public value), and although it’s arguable that Thompson has now boxed himself into a corner it’s perfectly possible to say that there was (and is) no alternative action to take.

So what now for Mark Thompson? It has to be said that the chain of command failure that led to the incident occurring in the first place highlights fundamental management communication weaknesses for which Thompson must surely take much of the blame for, especially since he was also in charge during the Crowngate incident.

Addressing those weaknesses ought to have been a top priority post-Crowngate, but it obviously appears that these fundamentals were not properly addressed and corrected throughout the corporation, and this management failure has now resulted in more potential problems (both short and long term) for the BBC.

Of course part of this problem can also stem from factors such as lack of resources (again attributable to BBC management) as well as the issues surrounding the use of independent production companies (another Crowngate weakness), and these factors are still very likely to remain unchanged whilst Thompson is still around.

From now onwards, Mark Thompson better turn in a flawless performance otherwise his judgment will inevitably have to be questioned by someone – in particular, the BBC Trust may end up being forced to question his ultimate performance – if the BBC is to avoid further direct criticism from politicians in the future.