Andy Gray and Richard Keys saw their careers damned by YouTube – but is YouTube putting too much power into unsafe hands?

Over the last few weeks sexism in sport has been on the nation’s mind.

It’s been difficult to move through the media landscape without having to squeeze past footage of Andy Gray asking Charlotte Jackson to tuck a microphone into his trousers. Or watching Richard Keys question Jamie Redknapp over whether or not he had ‘smashed it’ with an ex-girlfriend – a phrase that made him sound like an overawed and faintly jealous eleven-year-old boy eagerly quizzing an older brother.

Both Keys and Gray have lost their jobs over these videos which, like most unseemly material, first found their way into the public eye via the internet. The newspapers haven’t had much sympathy for the pair and, while a few big names have come to their defence, it seems like their fates are sealed.

But this incident raises issues beyond sexism – namely, the role the internet and a few seconds of video footage can play in bringing down careers that span decades.

While we might not sympathise with Gray or Keys there can’t be many people who can honestly say there isn’t a comment or remark they’ve made that they’re glad the world didn’t hear. How easy would it be, if your actions and comments were captured on camera for just 24 hours, for someone with a grudge to paint you in an unflattering light? And what if they could put that video into a forum where millions of people could view it at the touch of a button?

If this footage had fallen directly onto a broadcaster’s news desk, it might have found its way into the headlines, but I’m not convinced it would have become the media sensation it has.

By beginning it’s life as a viral internet phenomenon the broadcasters were guaranteed an audience when they chose to run the story. By the time the videos found their way off the internet and onto the TV screens there was already an audience of millions in the throes of moral outrage ready and waiting to see the story given the veneer of legitimacy via television than the internet doesn’t have (yet?).

There was no risk for the broadcasters – they knew this was something people cared about because the online community provided a litmus test of public opinion before an editor had to risk their reputation by running a story that could fall flat on its face.

Broadcasters needn’t hunt for stories in the same way they used to – they can simply wait for the internet to cough up a gem, then cut and paste it onto the TV with footage ready to rip from youtube.

In the wake of these videos, sources at Sky Sports have come forward to suggest Gray and Keys were unpopular with colleagues and that sexism was institutionalised at the station. The story has caused a media sensation which has left Keys and Gray jobless, tarnished Sky Sport’s reputation and may have, ironically, ruined Sian Massey’s career as well.

It’s obvious that video-sharing via the internet is a powerful tool – but it’s a tool that’s easily subject to abuse. This time it seems like we’ve got it right. Gray and Key’s were coming out with comments that even seemed to embarrass their guests – quite a feat when you’re hanging out with professional footballers.

But there’s no guarantee that the next time the victims won’t be largely blameless – people who made a one-off mistake that got caught by someone with an axe to grind. And now that the broadcasters have seen the sales this kind of scandal can generate I doubt they’ll shy away from running the next story in this vein that lands a public figure in hot water.

All they need to do is watch youtube and wait.

The big question: Who’s next?

By Alan O’Doherty

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