Other than that fact that they both have something of a speech impediment, I think that Jonathan Ross and Carol Thatcher seem to be quite different people. The circumstances surrounding their respective media controversies are also quite different. So it comes as no surprise to me that the response of their employers and the sanctions meted out in each instance are again quite different. But then I also feel that people are reacting quite differently to each case depending upon how tolerant they are. In saying “how tolerant” I am talking qualitatively, not quantitatively, by which I mean that our reaction depends not so much upon whether we are tolerant or intolerant, rather that in our responses we can clearly see what it is that we can more happily accommodate and tolerate; on the one hand there are those who don’t mind hearing naughty words, and on the other are those who feel quite comfortable with racism.
This plain fact – that there are many and obvious differences between Thatcher’s golliwog moment and the Ross / Sachs affair – has apparently eluded many of Carol Thatcher’s supporters, hence the stream of references to “but look at what happened to Jonathan Ross” in the media and elsewhere when complaining about her treatment. Clearly the BBC has erred in handling each matter on its merits, and it is wrong to deal on a case-by-case basis depending on the very different facts in every incident. Perhaps in future, to ensure fairness, a blanket response it required whenever a media storm blows up over nothing, just so we know where we stand and so we are aware beforehand exactly what the outcome of any investigation will be.
In that case, based upon the way the BBC has dealt with Ross and Thatcher, which precedent should they follow? There are two courses of action to pick from, and whichever is chosen we can subsequently see that in retrospect the BBC should have acted differently in dealing with the other miscreant. In other words
- Rather than just dropping Carol Thatcher from The One Show, following an apology Thatcher should have been suspended without pay from all of her BBC work for a period of three months, issued with a final warning, and advised to keep her head down completely until the time of the suspension was over. Or…
- Jonathan Ross should have been axed from appearing as a guest on the Russell Brand radio show, but would still be free to work elsewhere for the BBC, on his TV chat show, his Radio 2 show and on Film 2009. There would be no need for him to step down from presenting the British Comedy Awards on ITV.
We all pay for the BBC, and so it is important that we know exactly how they will deal with future situations; only then can we be confident in saying whether Jonathan Ross was dealt with harshly, or if Carol Thatcher’s treatment has been too lenient.