Letting The People Decide

I will get back to blogging about revenue assurance and other things at some point. But having blogged about the Celebrity Big Brother racist bullying scandal a couple of days ago, guessing that it might turn into something with enormous consequences for how we debate public standards of behaviour, I cannot stop now. Last night saw the worst episode yet. And today, the chickens are coming home to roost. Here is a quick update on where we are now:

– Complaints to Ofcom now total 30,000, by far the most ever about a UK TV show;
Carphone Warehouse has now pulled their sponsorship of Celebrity Big Brother;
– Ofcom is writing a letter to Channel 4 about the show.

Two separate debates are getting muddled during all this. The first one, which gets a lot of coverage, is about whether the obnoxious behaviour of some of the contestants is racist. The implication seems to be that people being nasty in a non-racist way is a perfectly acceptable thing to show on television, but if it is racist than it must be stopped. The second one, which is not getting much coverage, is what exactly people are complaining about. Are they complaining that Channel 4 should not show this programme, or are they complaining that people are behaving obnoxiously (whether racist or not) on the programme?

Let us focus on the second question. Perhaps some people on the show are racist. But it seems most people agree that even if they are racist, these people are making complete fools of themselves. Channel 4’s editing clearly highlights their ignorance and stupidity over and over again. All the indications are that the bullies will be left with no choice but to apologise, desperately try to justify their actions, will spend lots of time being seen out with coloured friends and denouncing racism in order to hold on to what will be left of their careers and businesses. If you oppose racism, then presumably the best outcome is to keep these imbeciles on television for as long as possible to guarantee they ultimately suffer the maximum in humiliation. People do not tend to complain about television channels presenting racists as stupid, ignorant bigots, so I assume the complaints are caused by the dislike of these particular bigots, and not because Channel 4 is so expertly highlighting it. Given that this is television that anyone can watch unedited if they wanted, Channel 4 and the producers, Endemol, have only sinned by pointing the camera at some fools, by allowing them to act like the fools they really are, and by broadcasting edited highlights of the most foolish things they do. In which case, the makers and network should be applauded for performing a public service, not castigated for failing to protect a supposedly feeble-minded public from the truth of what these people are. The gut reaction is to be angry at the behaviour of these silly bullies, but a calmer head says that the bullies are doing the most harm to themselves and anyone else who thinks like them.

Of course, there will be some politicians jumping on the bandwagon. A lot of MPs have tried to grab some attention by signing up to a motion on the topic. London Mayor Ken Livingstone, a man who thinks it inoffensive to compare a Jewish journalist asking a question to a Nazi solider following orders, has also spoken out. Livingstone has suggested that Channel 4 should lose their licence to broadcast as a result. But then Livingstone also praises China for being an open and tolerant society so we should not be too surprised at his attitude to free speech.

But I am grateful that Channel 4 are not backing down to pressure and intend to continue the show. The moral of the story here is not to be impressed by people who take any opportunity to promote themselves, whether they are a footballer’s girfriend or Ken Livingstone. The victim of the bullying, Shilpa Shetty, is a successful person who is showing the bravery to stand up for herself. She is not running away from the show or her treatment. Three other contestants have previously walked out on the spur of the moment, one claiming it was because he had no clean underpants. Nobody would think less of Shilpa Shetty if she left because she thought herself victim to racist intimidation. But instead, she battles on. As a result, she will be giving the public an ultimate opportunity to send a message about racism, as she contests with the loudest bully, Jade Goody, which one of them will be evicted from the show in the public vote this Friday. All the predictions are that Goody will kicked out by the viewing audience without needing the involvement of politicians. Many predict that Shetty, largely unknown in the UK beforehand, will go on to victory in this most straightforward of popularity contests. If she has the courage to continue, and to take on the self-publicising fools inside the Big Brother house, I see no reason why self-publicising fools outside should interfere.

Eric Priezkalns
Eric Priezkalns
Eric is the Editor of Commsrisk. Look here for more about the history of Commsrisk and the role played by Eric.

Eric is also the Chief Executive of the Risk & Assurance Group (RAG), a global association of professionals working in risk management and business assurance for communications providers.

Previously Eric was Director of Risk Management for Qatar Telecom and he has worked with Cable & Wireless, T‑Mobile, Sky, Worldcom and other telcos. He was lead author of Revenue Assurance: Expert Opinions for Communications Providers, published by CRC Press. He is a qualified chartered accountant, with degrees in information systems, and in mathematics and philosophy.