Brand and Ross: Their publics may be their downfall

The hot news today isn’t the global financial crisis. Nor is it the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Not even the US presidential election.

No, hot news in the UK this morning is the kerfuffle surrounding entertainers Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand who find themselves embroiled in mounting criticism over crude phone calls the pair made during Brand’s BBC radio show on October 18 to veteran actor Andrews Sachs (best known for his role as Manuel in Fawlty Towers).

The kerfuffle has spiralled rapidly to the extent that MPs are making statements. And you know things have got pretty serious if an MP has an opinion to express publicly. ;)

The latest development is that broadcasting regulator Ofcom is launching an inquiry into the affair.

The Daily Mail has a lurid but effective summary of it all, with over 675 comments as I write this where I reckon the clear sentiment of a majority of commenters is very clearly anti-Brand and -Ross.

Whatever you think of Brand’s and Ross’ behaviour – and over 1,500 people have expressed their distaste in complaints to the BBC, a record number – the speed and scale of developments have probably taken everyone by surprise.

Brand, Ross and the BBC have all apologized for the crude phone calls. Yet public expressions of distaste have grown with much media reporting on calls for both entertainers to be fired.

Should they be? In the case of Ross, this would get quite serious as his contract with the BBC is worth about £18 million.

I suppose a clear case could be made if either or both of them have breached any terms and conditions of their contracts, or a producer or other BBC employee or external producer breached any of the BBC editorial guidelines. That’s a logical area. But emotion will undoubtedly play a big role in what happens next in the court of public opinion.

And there you have some very interesting reputation and broader public relations issues to consider, from Russell Brand’s and Jonathan Ross’ points of view as well as from the BBC’s.

I’m waiting to hear what Max Clifford has to say.