Two weeks ago, Channel 4 and The Times’ joint investigative Dispatches documentary, ‘Russell Brand: In Plain Sight’, aired to almost 2 million people, drawing one of the biggest audiences to a Dispatches programme in years. It aired accusations against Brand of rape, sexual assault and the emotional abuse of four women, allegedly occurring between 2006 and 2013, in the peak of his fame. A further allegation of sexual assault has been received by the Met subsequent to the documentary airing, dating back to 2003.
Accusations against Brand of rape, sexual assault and the emotional abuse of four women
Following the programme’s airing, Ofcom received over 100 complaints that the documentary was “unfair” to Brand. In a video published by Brand himself before ‘In Plain Sight’ aired, he strongly denied the “very serious criminal allegations” and described his past as “promiscuous” but maintained that his relationships were always “consensual”.
On September 25th , Scotland Yard launched an investigation into the allegations exposed in the documentary.
Brand’s management company Tavistock Wood announced their decision to “terminate professional ties” with the comedian also prior to the airing of the documentary, and the remainder of his tour ‘Bipolarisation’ has been indefinitely postponed, with ticketholders promised full refunds.
These accusations are not the first of their kind to be levelled against Brand. In ex-girlfriend Jordan Martin’s initially anonymous 2014 biography, ‘kNot: Entanglement with a Celebrity: a memoir by a woman’, she describes emotional abuse and sexual assault she experienced in her relationship with the comedian.
YouTube, where Brand has over 6.5 million subscribers, suspended the monetisation of his videos the Tuesday after the documentary aired. This follows the platform removing one of the comedian’s videos last year for “spreading Covid misinformation”. Although there was disagreement within YouTube on the decision to demonetise Brand, CEO Neal Mohan defended the decision to demonetize Brand, stating: “If creators have off-platform behaviour… that could be damaging to the broader creator ecosystem, you can be suspended”.
The platform Rumble, however, onto which Brand moved his content following the 2022 YouTube video removal, has rejected calls to also de-monetize the comedian’s videos. Rumble CEO Chris Pavlovski describes the site as “neutral”, and “immune to cancel culture”. The companies Burger King, ASOS, the Barbican, and HelloFresh have all subsequently removed their advertisements from the platform.
Brand has received support from self-proclaimed “misogynist influencer” Andrew Tate, who tweeted at Brand “Welcome to the club”. Elon Musk has also defended Brand in X posts saying, “No more cancelling. Enough is enough”. In a recent interview, Musk described the current climate as “witch burning season”. Former Fox News host Tucker Carlson also posted on X agreeing with Brand’s video statement points, that the allegations were linked to trying to silence his controversial political views.
In recent years, Brand has shifted from comedy to activist-cum-guru, posting not only about politics, but also yoga practices and family, he himself having two daughters. The documentary finishes with a brief look at this shift, noting that at the “sober wellness” Community Festival earlier this year, Brand donated some of the proceeds to the women-only charities Trevi Women, Treasures Foundation, and the Stay Free Foundation.
Trevi Women, aiming to help vulnerable mothers struggling with drug addiction, have cut ties with Brand and the Stay Free Foundation after a year of collaboration, stating: “we always prioritise supporting women affected by violence and abuse and empower them to live without violence and fear”. Bluebird publishers, who were on to publish a third self-help book by Brand, have also stated they have “paused” all collaborative work.
Attorney-General Victoria Prentis has come under fire for warning the press that “publishing this material […] could amount to contempt of court”. One of many who disapproved, The Times journalist Sean O’Neill responded with a scathing opinion piece, condemning her for “intervening” in the freedom of the British press with this “thinly veiled threat”, calling for her to withdraw it.
Many of Brand’s fans on social media platforms are emphasising the sentiment of unfairness and “innocent until proven guilty” in regard to the allegations exposed in the documentary. O’Neill defends the Dispatches documentary and its surrounding journalism: “anyone with even the sketchiest knowledge of how the media works surely knows that every single word of reporting on Brand has been rigorously scrutinised before publication.”
Anyone with even the sketchiest knowledge of how the media works surely knows that every single word of reporting on Brand has been rigorously scrutinised before publicationSean O’Neill
As University of Sunderland Media Law lecturer Carole Watson discusses, the reason for the delay between the reports and the documentary air date is because of the thorough verifying of sources and records. She adds that: “undoubtedly media lawyers at both News UK (the parent company of The Sunday Times) and Channel 4 spent days and days poring over their words and footage”. It must also be noted that Brand has yet to sue for the documentary’s content and the victims’ allegations, despite threatening some of the women with this in the past.
The Brand accusations are the latest in a long list of alleged sexual misconduct from major personalities in the British media, the most recent examples of which include Philip Schofield and Huw Edwards. There is also a troubling connection with Jimmy Savile, with Brand offering in 2007 to send his assistant around to Savile’s naked, to ‘perform services’.
‘Russell Brand: In Plain Sight’ ends with statements from both Channel 4 and the BBC detailing their denials of freedom of information requests, and their responses to the allegations against the comedian. Both broadcasters (former employers of Brand) explain how their anti-bullying policies have “evolved” (BBC), and that “today” (Channel 4) there is a zero-tolerance approach to any sexual harassment in the workplace. However, with these accusations currently standing at least a decade old, the media companies’ reluctance to take male celebrities’ misconduct seriously at the time remains a disturbing and unresolved issue.