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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Shilpagate - PR disaster for the UK?

The situation in the Big Brother household continues to grasp and hold our attention, even those of us that do watch the programme know what is happening. It is more than a reality TV programme now, it has re-opened a very sensitive issue: is racism ingrained in our society? And is bullying endemic and tolerated?

It is hard to spot a national paper that did not have the issue of racism and bullying on the front cover this morning. The Daily Express led with "How a reality TV show has shamed our country in the eyes of the world."

I am sure many of us feel uncomfortable and identify with that sentiment.

Indeed, broadcasting watchdog Ofcom has received over 30,000 complaints and Channel 4 10,000. The former is a record for Ofcom and the latter must for Channel 4 unless something drastic happens on Countdown.

Things are happening so fast that the Keep Shilpa In website states that there were 14,500 complaints to Ofcom - dated Wednesday - and has not updated the continuing surge of outrage.

This website has gone from a small site little visited innocuous site supporting Shilpa in her bid to win the contest to one that attracts over 250,000 visitors a day.

So as the situation unravels it is becoming clearer to see the winners and losers and what PR do they need to do to come out of this debacle well:

Jade Goody, Jo O'Meara and Danielle Lloyd have lost their "careers." The only way to redress this would be to apologize unreservedly for their behavior when they come out. It would be partially successful I feel if they agreed to it, which I doubt. We might not have seen the worst of the diatribes yet and how would they excuse their behaviour and build a reason for the public accepting their contrition?. I only think Jo O'Meara, owing to being more peripheral, might have the attention deflected off her sufficiently to not feel the force of the reaction that is pent up and ready to go as they leave the house. They are all in for a shock.

Channel 4 is beginning to feel the backlash, but their broadcast media gut reaction is that it is all publicity and ride the storm. They might reap the whirlwind.

Losing the sponsorship of a brand such as Carphone Warehouse must make them think again. Government looking at broadcast licenses must make them think again. But CEO Andy Duncan's intransigence and what could be taken for arrogance in a recent interview is not helping. Unless they change tack things will get hotter. If they review, act, they can come out of this well and with the viewing figures they crave. I hope they are getting good PR advice: a start would be tackling the bullies in the interview room about their behaviour in a forthright manner. But trading off the sensationalism is too much for them to even reconsider.

Shilpa - her career is made. She has shown dignity and character. It will be rewarded beyond her dreams.

Britain - Gordon Brown had the misfortune to be in India and his showcase tour is ruined. I think it will spark a debate and that is healthy especially as so many politicans and the public have shown their disgust. There will be a short uncomfortable period, but it will disappear. Relations with India will not suffer, especially if the politicans and public contimue to voice their concern and sympathy with Shilpa and the unacceptibility of the actions of the three.

Only the other day I posted a piece on the PR successes and disasters for 2006; it seems as though 2007's will be strongly featured here.


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