Tuesday, September 11, 2007

It's One Rule For Us ...

Ofcom's latest Complaints Bulletin (pdf)


This topical news comedy programme was introduced by Sir Trevor McDonald. It included a number of items which ranged from the quality of Big Brother contestants, through comments on the early release from jail of 25,000 prisoners, to a sequence entitled “Saudis Do The Funniest Things” (a spoof clip show). At one point, Sir Trevor McDonald introduced an item by saying: “It’s time for ‘Racist and Dead’, this week, it’s the turn of corpulent, narrow-minded northerner Bernard Manning. Personally, I never thought of Bernard Manning as a racist comic… just a fat, white bastard…”

112 viewers complained that the use of the expression “fat, white bastard” was inappropriate and/or racist.


The Code was drafted in the light of the Human Rights Act 1998 and the European Convention on Human Rights. In particular, the right to freedom of expression, as expressed in Article 10 of the Convention, encompasses the audience’s right to receive creative material, information and ideas without interference, but subject to restrictions prescribed by law and necessary in a democratic society. Ofcom must ensure that generally accepted standards are applied to the content of television services, so as to provide adequate protection for members of the public, for example from the broadcast of offensive material. Rule 2.3 of the Code states that “…in applying generally accepted standards broadcasters must ensure that material which may cause offence is justified by the context…”. There is therefore no prohibition on the broadcast of an expression such as the one used by Sir Trevor McDonald, provided that it is justified by context. Context includes, amongst other things: the time of broadcast; the editorial content of the programme; the degree of offence likely to be caused by the material; and the likely expectation of the audience. The programme was broadcast a full hour after the 21:00 watershed, when more challenging material can sometimes be expected. It was clear from the outset that the programme, whilst a comedy, was an edgy, satirical look at the week’s news, and that on occasions there would be some material that risked offending some viewers. In the case of this programme, Sir Trevor McDonald obviously, and intentionally, drew on Bernard Manning’s own style of humour, which frequently played on the real or apparent prejudices of his audience. The comments were clearly intended to parody Manning’s own comedy, where he claimed he was not himself racist, but simply made ‘jokes’ based on racial stereotypes. It was in such a context that Sir Trevor McDonald could therefore state that he did not consider Manning to be a racist but then went on to say that he was “…a fat white bastard”.

Taking the above into account, therefore, we do not believe this specific expression went beyond the likely expectations of an audience for a satirical news-based comedy programme broadcast well after the watershed, and that any offence that may have been caused was justified by the context.

Not In Breach.

I've got no problem with Sir Trev using such an expression, though I don't think it suits him. It's just that the ratchet only ever turns one way.


JuliaM said...

"...any offence that may have been caused was justified by the context."

The context here being "Oooh, God no, we couldn't criticise him for that! Come back to us if anyone who is white calls him a 'fat black bastard' though..."

Anonymous said...

I wonder what 'context' they would understand if it was said in Parliament Square in front of the Nelson Mandela statue now?

Anonymous said...

Jim Davidson referring to gays as "shirt-lifters" is another matter entirely, I'm sure.

Susan said...

Same as in the US then, only in the US it's worse.

Anonymous said...

Trevor 'auto-cue reader' McDonald being a Sir is offensive enough.

What next Dame Kaplinsky?

Anonymous said...

What next?
Hug a hoodie.
Snog a jihadi