Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Andy Gray - caught offside?

I was chatting with a media pal shortly after the Andy Gray/Richard Keys "lineswomangate" audio was released from Sky Sports. We were musing about the coincidence of its appearance across the news media and the fact that Andy Gray is taking action against the News of The World for alleged phone hacking. Both the NoW and Sky have the same owner, a Mr R Murdoch of various fixed abodes.

Andy Gray was apparently sacked not just for the remarks that he and Richard Keys made about a female assistant referee, but also because a video has come to light showing him making suggestive remarks to a Sky colleague, Charlotte Jackson. It would appear that Mr Gray's lawyers, Schillings, are taking a look at the circumstances to see if a claim for unfair dismissal is in order.

I'm not about to defend sexist behaviour or language. I don't know Andy Gray or Richard Keys personally, though I have met them both at Sky News. They know as well as anyone that whenever there is a microphone near you, your voice could be recorded. However, I suspect that the sort of banter that's been revealed goes on many times a day, in groups of males and/or females throughout the media, and in every other profession. This incident has been singled out for some reason. Perhaps a reprimand would have been appropriate. Perhaps a sacking has resulted from a series of incidents. We may never know, though an employment tribunal, should it come to that, will reveal more.

A question that puzzles me is this: How did an off-air conversation come to be distributed to a range of media outlets so rapidly? Is there any parallel with listening to private phone messages? One thing is for sure. This story is even more complex than the offside rule.


Steve Trister said...

The whole thing smells of fish! Its an absolute stitch up for sure. They must have hours of recordings of comments like that. Has to be a leak!

Just to clarify, my stance on his comments. He's a prat and needs to join us in this century!

Guy Clapperton said...

There was a comment on the radio this morning - I have no better source - to the effect that the offending second clip had been on YouTube since December. I suspect a couple of things: first that we're not hearing the complete story (I do agree this sort of banter goes on all the time from both sexes and is rarely considered serious) but second, once it had come to light and gone high profile, Sky had no option but to be seen to act.

The first comment, about the lineswoman, was the more serious in my view. Everyone can have a bit of banter while a microphone operator is fiddling with your trousers - it can be a way of covering embarrassment, for example - but undermining someone's ability to do their job and prejudging their line calls when you'll be commenting on the match is a probem in terms of getting the job done.

Ian said...

The moment I saw this story appearing, I thought of your advice Alan: "If your wearing a microphone, just assume that its on!" As you say, Gray and Keys were media professionals, and should have known better.

While such banter goes on in offices and work places globally, its the extent of one incident or the number of recurring incidents that will get you in trouble with your employer, and ultimately sacked. They may seem minor, but if others take offence then management have a legal obligation to take some action.

From an HR viewpoint, the more serious incident was the one in the studio. Harassment of a fellow employee in a sexual manner is normally considered a serious breach of judgement, and hence your contract of employment. Apparently he was warned at least verbally later about this incident. Secondly, most employment contracts have a "bringing the company into disrepute" clause, often greatly extended in sports and the media. Hence although the second incident with regards the lines woman is less serious from an HR view point, at least it legally could be considered a minor breach of that disrepute clause. The third incident involving later comments by Gray on the touchline could either be consider a separate incident or part of the same lines woman case, but I conclude Sky felt it a third case.

In most employment contracts, three minor breaches is considered one major breach, and hence sufficient legal reasoning for dismissal. Gray clearly breached from recorded evidence on three occasions, its then up to his employer, Sky, to follow their disciplinary procedure and come to a conclusion.

Now technically, they could have kept him, but I am with you here Alan: why release such recordings to the media? Someone or his employer had an agenda to dispose of him, and they did. To achieve that, they released footage to the media. Now dismissing someone for three minor breaches of their employment contract is legal, but bringing their reputation into disrepute while doing so is illegal: the employer is almost terminally blocking, but at least degredating, their future employment.

At least two of the recordings were released at Sky's behest and with their full knowledge. Hence I also conclude that Gray has at least grounds for a claim against Sky, possibly on not following their own dismissal procedure, certainly in sullying in his reputation and hence degredating his chances of future employment. This story has much further to roll, at least from an employment law view point.

Alan Stevens said...

Thanks to all for insightful comments. Still watching this story, since it's not over by a long way.