The Culture Secretary has said work places should not “allow possible abuses of power” as she called on media industry leaders to look at the culture and processes in their organisations.
During her keynote speech at the Royal Television Society (RTS) Cambridge Conference on Wednesday, Lucy Frazer addressed the allegations raised against comedian Russell Brand, describing the claims as “deeply shocking”.
Brand has been accused of rape, assault and emotional abuse between 2006 and 2013, when he was at the height of his fame and working for the BBC, Channel 4 and starring in Hollywood films. He has strongly denied all the allegations.
Speaking about the claims, Ms Frazer said: “Those allegations are deeply shocking. And it’s right that the police are encouraging anyone who believes they may be a victim of a sexual offence to come forward.
“It’s also right for the organisations involved in his employment to conduct transparent investigations into whether complaints were made or concerns were raised and what action, if any, was taken.”
Ms Frazer noted that due to the nature of the claims, it would be “inappropriate” for her to comment further.
The allegations against Brand were first raised in a joint investigation by The Times, Sunday Times and Channel 4’s Dispatches, which also included claims of controlling, abusive and predatory behaviour.
The Culture Sectary also reflected on the type of media landscape she wanted for the country, saying: “It is incumbent on all of us to make sure that this industry is synonymous with talent, opportunity and inclusivity, not the scandals of #MeToo.
“TV studios, production facilities and offices need to be places where people feel safe.
“Places where working cultures are responsible and accountable and don’t allow the possible abuses of power.
“Places where everybody feels able to speak up, no matter how junior, and where leaders never turn a blind eye.
“And I would urge all of you, as leaders in your industry, to look hard at the cultures and processes in your own organisations and the need to change if change is needed.”
The BBC and Channel 4 have launched investigations into Brand’s time at their channels, along with removing content featuring the comedian from their platforms.
Ms Frazer told the BBC Radio 4’s The Media Show she has spoken to Channel 4 and the BBC and has received “assurances” about their investigations.
She was also questioned about the video hosting site, YouTube, stopping the comedian from making money from his online channel, and said: “Everyone will take independent decisions in relation to actions that concern them, that is appropriate.
“There are a number of elements to this, so it’s really important, as I said that people come forward, and (have) the justice system (work) for them.”
Another investigation is being conducted by Banijay UK, which bought Endemol, the company commissioned by Channel 4 to produce the Big Brother spin-off shows the presenter hosted, into his behaviour while he was working on its programmes.
Earlier in the day during the RTS convention, Channel 4 chief executive Alex Mahon said the Brand allegations show that “terrible behaviour” towards women has been “historically tolerated” in the industry.
Ms Mahon, who is also the RTS convention chairwoman, said in her opening speech: “The allegations made against Russell Brand are horrendous and as a CEO of Channel 4 and as a woman in our industry, I found the behaviours described in Dispatches and The Sunday Times and The Times articles disgusting and saddening.”
She added: “What is clear to me is that terrible behaviour towards women was historically tolerated in our industry.
“And the clips as well provide a rather very shocking jolt when one realises what appeared on air not that long ago.”
Ms Mahon said the behaviour was “less prevalent now” but recognised it was still a problem and something broadcasters must all confront, adding: “There is still more change that needs to come and Channel 4, along with those others, are at the forefront of that change”.
— Royal Television Society (@RTS_media) September 20, 2023
In a letter to the Commons committee on Monday, and published on Tuesday online, Ms Mahon said Channel 4 has carried out “extensive document searches” since becoming aware of the allegations and have so far found “no evidence to suggest the alleged incidents were brought to the attention of Channel 4 management at the time”.
During her keynote speech, Ms Frazer also hailed the UK TV industry as “world leading” and pledged that “new ways of consuming TV should not come at the expense of those who still enjoy terrestrial television” amid an increase in viewers turning to streaming platforms.
She confirmed the Government are launching a new programme of work on the future of TV distribution, which will be supported by Ofcom evidence that the media watchdog are due to publish in the autumn.
She explained the department for Culture, Media and Sport will undertake a six-month research project which will look at the “changing viewing habits and technologies that will impact how shows are brought to our screen, both now, and in the decades to come, acknowledging always the importance of access”.
Ms Frazer added that they will be working with the media industry and Ofcom to consider the impact of new technologies like AI to help guide their future policymaking.
She continued: “A television industry which is able to broadcast, to produce and distribute fearless truth telling in its news, uncomfortable issues in its documentaries, or produce dramas that highlight challenging real life issues, is one that reveals behind it a strong democracy that is the mark of a free country.”