(Celebrity) Big Brothers Big Mouth E4, 29 January 2010, 23:05
Big Brothers Big Mouth (BBBM) is the sister programme to Channel 4s main Big Brother series . It is transmitted live and is broadcast post-watershed and looks at events in the Big Brother House with a studio audience and celebrity guests. It provides a platform for fans to voice their views, put questions to the evicted housemates and discuss the latest events in the house. Viewers are able to contribute to the programme by phone, e-mail, textpolls, or by leaving a message on the 24-hour Mouthpiece rant line.
This episode was broadcast the same night as the CBB series finale and followed the Channel 4 coverage of the event. The programme was presented by Davina McCall. It was preceded with a warning which stated: First on Four, with strong language, adult humour and flashing images, the Big Mouth on a big event, Celebrity Big Brother.
One of the guests on the programme was Vinnie Jones, who came third in the competition and had been evicted from the CBB house that night. During the programme a member of the studio audience asked Jones how he had known instantly that the person who came into the house disguised in a chicken outfit was Ms McCall and not fellow housemate Nicola Tappenden. In response to the question, Jones said: she was walking like a retard, she was walking like this [he then demonstrated walking with difficulty] and our Nicky walks lovely.
Ms McCall then responded by saying: I do not walk like a retard.
Ofcom received eight complaints about the programme. In summary, all of the complainants were offended by the use of the term walking like a retard by Jones, and the demonstration he gave after saying the comment. Seven of the complainants were also offended by the response from the presenter, Ms McCall, who had repeated the phrase. Four of the complainants also raised concerns that Ms McCall had appeared to enjoy the joke and did not reprimand Jones for the comment.
In line with Ofcoms procedures, the complaints were initially considered by the Executive without representations being requested from Channel 4. On 18 February 2010, Ofcom wrote to Channel 4 informing them that eight complaints had been received but not upheld. Ofcom stated that it was mindful of the overall context of the programme and decided on balance that there was not sufficient evidence to conclude that the word was necessarily intended to be offensive to anyone with learning difficulties.
Two of the complainants requested a review of this decision. Ofcom considered Rule 2.3 of the Code (which requires material that may cause offensive must be justified by the context).
Ofcom Decision: Resolved
The Committee first examined the language used in this case in order to assess the potential it had for causing offence. In doing so the Committee recognised that the use of discriminatory language of this nature can be profoundly offensive to some viewers as it singles out a minority in society. Ofcoms own research (-3-) into offensive language identified that the word retard is quite polarising. Those people who consider it offensive do so because it is a derogatory term that refers to a disability.
In the Committees opinion, the comments made by both Jones and Ms McCall in this programme were clearly capable of causing offence. In reaching this view, the Committee noted that the use of the word retard by Jones, although arguably intended as a joke and not aimed at an individual with learning difficulties, could be seen as being a comment on people in society with a particular disability. This was reinforced by Jones demonstrating walking with difficulty when imitating the way in which Ms McCall had walked. Jones then unfavourably compared the walk with that of fellow housemate Nicola Tappenden, which he described as lovely. It was the Committees view that his use of the word retard was capable of being understood not as merely a passing reference directed towards Ms McCall, but also as ridiculing those with a physical or learning difficulty, emphasised by his attempt at imitation.
The Committee was particularly concerned that not only was Jones comment not corrected but that it was repeated by the presenter, Ms McCall, without any apparent recognition of its potential to cause offence. The Committee, while acknowledging this was a live show, considered that in this instance the action of Ms McCall had the potential to heighten the offence to viewers.
The Committee was also concerned that the programme makers took no action during the programme to seek to mitigate the offence that would have been caused by the comments. The Committee noted Channel 4s admission that it would normally respond to a comment of that nature by asking the presenter to admonish the person responsible and if appropriate, apologise to the audience. It said that, due to human error, it had failed to do so on this occasion.
In the Committees opinion that failure suggested a lack of understanding during the live broadcast of how offensive the comments had been.
However, the Committee concluded that, on balance and in the circumstances of this particular case, there was insufficient context to justify the offence that was likely to be caused by the comments made during the programme. Therefore the broadcast breached generally accepted standards.
The Committee then went on to consider whether Channel 4 had taken immediate and appropriate steps to remedy this breach of generally accepted standards. The Committee noted the action taken by the broadcaster in response to the complaints made about the programme. In particular Channel 4 had voluntarily removed the comments from the Video on Demand (4OD) version of the programme after an internal review (albeit this was in response to a complaint several days after broadcast by an individual who is also a complainant in this case), and had apologised in writing to the complainant. The Committee also noted the measures taken by Channel 4 to ensure this does not happen again. The Committee considered these measures appropriate to remedy the breach of generally accepted standards and therefore considered the case resolved.