America’s Next Top Model
Sky Living HD, 9 April 2011, 10:00
America’s Next Top Model is an American reality series in which contestants compete in various tasks and photo shoots to win a modelling contract with an international modelling agency.
During this episode of the series, Miss Jay, the runway coach, advised contestants on how to perfect their catwalk on various surfaces, while also handling various accessories. In giving feedback to one contestant on how she performed this task, Miss Jay said: Michelle, you’re walking like you have spina bifida on the right side of your body.
Miss Jay then walked in an exaggerated style as if to mimic the contestant’s walk.
Ofcom received one complaint from a viewer who considered that the comment was offensive. The complainant said that this comment was disgusting and a derogatory insult to those who live with the challenges of disability.
We considered the following rule of the Code:
- Rule 2.3 In applying generally accepted standards broadcasters must ensure that material which may cause offence is justified by the context. Such material may include,…offensive language,… discriminatory treatment or language (for example on the grounds of … disability …).
Sky explained that America’s Next Top Model is now in its fifteenth series on Sky Living HD. This particular episode, taken from the fourth series, was first transmitted on Living TV in 2005. Sky explained that the episode had been complied for broadcast at the time by the Living TV compliance team and had subsequently been repeated many times on Living TV and Sky Living.
Sky stated that it recognises the potential for offense [sic] that can be caused by such comments and said that the team who complies the programme has been made aware of the issue and the need for sensitivity has been reiterated. It added: accordingly, the offending comment has been removed from the programme for future transmissions.
Ofcom Decision: Resolved
The comments and actions of Miss Jay – criticising the catwalk style of one of the contestants and linking it with spina bifida – had the clear potential to be understood as ridiculing those with spina bifida, a serious physical disability. In Ofcom’s view it therefore had the potential to offend.
As regards the degree of harm or offence likely to be caused by the remark, Ofcom noted that the comment by Miss Jay was not aimed at a particular individual with a disability, nor was it used aggressively. However, it could be seen as ridiculing people in society with a particular disability. This impression was reinforced by Miss Jay imitating in a slightly exaggerated way the manner in which contestant had walked. The comments and actions of Miss Jay therefore had the potential to cause considerable offence, especially to those with disabilities. Ofcom concluded that, on balance, there was insufficient context to justify the offence likely to be caused by the comments made by, and actions of, Miss Jay during the programme. The broadcast therefore breached generally accepted standards.
However, Ofcom notes Sky’s sincere regret that this incident occurred and its immediate decision to remove the offensive comment from the programme for future transmissions. Ofcom also welcomes the action taken by Sky to remind its compliance team of the need for sensitive treatment of broadcast comments relating to disability. In light of these actions taken by Sky, Ofcom considers this matter resolved.