Clarkson vs. BBC – Commercial Success vs. Moral Righteousness

“There cannot be one rule for one and one rule for another dictated by either rank or public relations and commercial considerations” – BBC Director-General Tony Hall on the decision to sack Jeremy Clarkson.

Whether knowingly or not, Mr. Hall has provided a significant contribution to an ongoing debate, one that though not resolved by Clarkson’s sacking, is certainly clarified for those presenters and producers that are teetering on the brink of insolence towards their fellow employees and employers.

While the popularity of ‘Top Gear’ is almost certain to wane (and potentially plummet) following the retrenchment of its marquee man, the moral righteousness displayed by the BBC has held both it and the rest of the media industry in good stead for the future. Top Gear is, in essence, the battle, and the BBC may very well lose it following their action. However it’s the war that counts most, and a precedent has undoubtedly been set for any similar incidents to come.

Of course, this isn’t the first high profile case of a TV star’s fiery antics off-set leading to drastic reformation on it. The wildly popular Two and a Half Men quickly became all about one man, as Charlie Sheen’s well documented tirade against producer Chuck Lorre, and incredulous demands (he rejected an estimated $1 million an episode due to the figure being “too low”) resulted in his replacement by Ashton Kutcher. The first epsiode sans-Sheen was seen by 28.7 million people, higher than any ratings figure for the show’s previous 8 seasons. However, following this viewer curiosty regarding the show’s new frontman, numbers rapidly deteriorated, culminating in the series’ final episode airing Febururay this year.

Herein lies the potential avenue for BBC’s Top Gear, the final desitnation being a loss of one of its most profitable business ventures. However, by refusing Clarkson immunity to castigation, a considerable stride has been taken towards equality in the workplace. Granted, gender equality is another issue entirely (perhaps one for a future post), but the possibility of status equality has strenghened considerably, with even the one man ratings bonanza that is ‘Jezza’ susceptible to the consequences of workplace harassment.

In somewhat disheartening news, BBC creative director Alan Yentob has said he “wouldn’t rule out” Clarkson’s potential return, casting dispersions on just how permanent the moral authority the BBC has established will last. A comment such as this when the wound created by Clarkson is so fresh just goes to show the intense lure that the promise of commercial success creates.

Here’s hoping that the BBC stands firm behind their decision, as it will strengthen the willingness of oppressed workers to speak up, and will provide a check on power for those in the often blinding spotlight of successful TV, one that grows harder to resist in today’s ever commercialised media society.

Originally published on on 27th March, 2015

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David Zita Written by:

Born and bred in Melbourne, Australia. Passions: AFL, Tennis, Writing, Presenting Goal: Sports Journalist Quote to live by: 'Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.'

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