The BBC has been criticised by the communications watchdog over a programme in which presenter Jeremy Clarkson made offensive, disablist comments about people with learning difficulties.
Clarkson told viewers of the popular BBC2 motoring show Top Gear that the Ferrari F430 Especial should instead have been called the “430 Speciale Needs” because its “smiling front end” made it “look like a simpleton”.
The BBC said the comments were made as a “light-hearted reference to the look of the car” but said it recognised that the comment had “the potential to cause offence”.
It removed the comment from the repeat version of the programme and the version available on BBC iPlayer, and assured Ofcom that the original version of the programme would not be repeated. It also apologised for any offence caused by the comments.
Ofcom said it took account of the fact that Top Gear was “well known for its irreverent style, and sometimes outspoken humour and studio banter between the presenters” but that “discriminatory language of this nature has the potential to be very offensive to some viewers, as it could be seen to single out certain sections of society in a derogatory way because of their disability”.
It concluded that Clarkson’s comments “were capable of causing offence” and “could easily be understood as ridiculing people in society with a particular physical disability or learning difficulty”.
Ofcom said it had decided to take no further action over the comments because the BBC had taken “immediate steps in response to complaints it received about the programme”.
The latest ruling comes five months after Ofcom overturned its own ruling and condemned the use of similarly offensive, disablist language on the Channel 4 show Celebrity Big Brother’s Big Mouth.
Nine people with learning difficulties – and other campaigners – had protested at Ofcom’s original decision not to uphold complaints about actor Vinnie Jones “joking” that presenter Davina McCall walked “like a retard”.
Several of the people with learning difficulties who signed the letter protesting at the decision had hand-delivered it to Ofcom’s headquarters.
25 October 2010