Ofcom investigating Brand, Ross' prank calls

Radio show aired lewd calls to 'Fawlty Towers' star

LONDON -- The BBC is coming under intense public, regulatory and political pressure to take further action over the broadcast of lewd and offensive telephone calls to "Fawlty Towers" actor Andrew Sachs by two of its most highly paid comedians, Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand.

In a show that aired Oct. 18, chat show host Ross and radio broadcaster Brand left messages in which Brand boasted that he had had sex with Sachs' granddaughter Georgina. In calls to the same voicemail, Brand brags that the sex was "consensual" and claims that he "wore a condom."

At one point in the banter between the two radio hosts, Brand breaks into song: "I said something I didn't have oughtta, like I had sex with your granddaughter. But it was consensual and she wasn't menstrual, it was consensual lovely sex. It was full of respect, I sent her a text, I've asked her to marry me, Andrew Sachs."

By midafternoon Tuesday, the pubcaster had received 10,000 complaints, and media watchdog Ofcom has said it will launch its own investigation into the matter. The BBC on Monday issued an apology to Sachs and to viewers, saying that "some of the content was unacceptable and offensive," adding that it is investigating how the recorded show came to be broadcast. Brand and Ross have apologized privately to Sachs.

The pubcaster's oversight committee, the BBC Trust, also has said it will summon BBC bosses to explain themselves.

Politicians and commentators, however, have criticized BBC management for failing to make any public statement on the matter beyond an apology from the Radio Two publicity team, despite the fact that the matter has generated thousands of complaints from viewers and dominated news cycles and commentary for two days straight.

"I am very disappointed that no one from the BBC has come on this or any other program to explain their actions," opposition broadcasting spokesman Jeremy Hunt told BBC Radio's lunchtime news show. "This is no time for management to be hiding away, they should take responsibility."

Former BBC chairman Christopher Bland said that the pubcaster had made a "serious error of judgment."

Lawyers said that Sach's granddaughter, Georgina Baillie, potentially had a legal case against the BBC for invasion of privacy.

"These days, she could have a cause of action in her own right under privacy law. It's hard to see how you could claim there is a public interest in the BBC broadcasting details of her sex life" said Caroline Kean, head of litigation at media lawyers Wiggin.

"The idea that people who are not the main target of a story have privacy rights is still something that the media is coming to terms with," she added. "The law is clear though, that following Article 8 of the Human Rights Act, if there isn't a public interest in revealing it, people are entitled to have details of their sex lives kept private."
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