BBC Head Walks Off Interview, Makes Crisis Worse

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on November 26, 2012 – 6:02 am

George Entwistle, the director-general of the BBC, resigned his post earlier this month after one of his programs ran an inaccurate report. Here’s the story, as summarized by New York Magazine:

“Entwistle has been having trouble ever since it was revealed that BBC host Jimmy Savile had sexually abused hundreds of children, but things boiled over on November 2, when the celebrated Newsnight program ran a program implicating a senior Tory politician in child sexual abuse at Welsh care homes. While no one was specifically named on-air, it later leaked online that the man in question was Lord McAlpine, a treasury secretary under Margaret Thatcher, who called the allegations “wholly false and seriously defamatory.”

 

Shortly after his resignation, the BBC’s newly appointed acting director-general, Tim Davie, gave an interview to Sky News. It didn’t go well.

It rarely looks good when a spokesperson abruptly ends a live interview, particularly when the walk off occurs in the midst of an already-raging crisis. And it’s even worse when a spokesperson walks off an interview that asks him about his predecessor’s poor handling of the media.

But the most surprising thing was that the questions should have been easy to anticipate—and therefore prepare for—prior to the interview.

In a crisis, it’s absolutely critical to show the public that you both understand the crisis and are competent enough to resolve it. Instead, Mr. Davie dug an even deeper PR hole for the British Broadcasting Corporation. If Mr. Entwistle was being accused of incompetence, Mr. Davie didn’t exactly inspire confidence that his tenure would be any better.

BBC acting director-general Tim Davie

One final note: I found it surprising that Mr. Davie didn’t appear to know where to look during the interview (he should have watched my video about where to look during television appearances). As the acting director-general of the BBC, Mr. Davie should be familiar enough with the norms of television to have at least directed his gaze in the right direction.

A grateful tip o’ the hat to the great Jeff Domansky, otherwise known as The PR Coach.

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BBC: Those Lazy, Flatulent, Feckless Mexicans

Written by Brad Phillips on February 8, 2011 – 6:41 am

Viewers of the popular BBC program Top Gear are used to the humorous hosts making irreverent remarks. But a few recent comments about Mexicans got the hosts in some well-deserved hot water.

Last week, the show’s hosts were discussing a Mexican sports car that they referred to as the “Mexican Tortilla.”

Mastretta_MXT

Mexico's Mastretta MXT (Photo Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

As the co-hosts and audience laughed along, one of the hosts said:

“Why would you want a Mexican car? Cars reflect national characteristics, don’t they…Mexican cars are just going to be a lazy, feckless, flatulent…leaning against a fence asleep, looking at a cactus with a blanket with a hole in the middle on as a coat.”

“I’m sorry, but imagine waking up and remembering you’re Mexican.”

 

The Mexican ambassador to Great Britain complained, saying:

“These offensive, xenophobic and humiliating remarks only serve to reinforce negative stereotypes and perpetuate prejudice against Mexico and its people.”

 

And while the BBC apologized, they did it in that weasel-like, half-hearted “If you were offended” kind of way:

“We are sorry if we have offended some people, but jokes centered on national stereotyping are a part of Top Gear’s humour…Whilst it may appear offensive to those who have not watched the programme or who are unfamiliar with its humour, the executive producer has made it clear to the ambassador that that was absolutely not the show’s intention.”

 

That statement reads as a classic non-apology, refusing the blame and re-directing toward the offended.

The list of public figures who have caused major damage to their careers based on these types of remarks is almost endless, but includes: former Senate candidate George “Macaca” Allen; former CNN Host Rick Sanchez; former NPR Analyst Juan Williams; former movie star Mel Gibson; former funnyman Michael Richards; formerly-heard radio host Don Imus; former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott; and former White House correspondent Helen Thomas.

I’ll leave it to others to decide for themselves whether they think stereotypical humor is funny. But it has no place in the public square – unless you want to provoke negative press and cause self-inflicted reputational damage.

Related: January’s Five Worst Media Disasters

Related: Why You Should Be Paranoid In Public

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