Slaves to PC…Ofcom walk on PC eggshells to humour complainants about a Coronation Street pun on Alex Hailey’s Roots

Posted: 25 November, 2016 in Ofcom TV Censor
Tags: ,
Read more ow.htm at MelonFarmers.co.uk

Roots Alex HaleyCoronation Street ITV,
29 August 2016, 19:30

Coronation Street is a long-running and well-established soap opera on ITV.

Ofcom received 473 complaints about a comment by the character Eva Price during a scene in the local hair salon. Looking at her dyed hair, she said:

Yeah, look [pointing at her hair] I’ve got more roots than Kunte Kinte. No idea who that is by the way, it’s summat my mum used to say.

Kunte Kinte is the lead character in Alex Haley’s 1976 novel Roots: The Saga of an American Family which was later adapted into a popular television series called Roots. The story chronicles the life of an 18th century African man who was captured and sold into slavery in the United States.

The complainants considered the play on the word roots was unacceptable as the basis for a joke given the subject matter of the Alex Haley story, and therefore felt that the comment was racially offensive.

Ofcom considered Rule 2.3 of the Code:

In applying generally accepted standards broadcasters must ensure that material which may cause offence is justified by the contextâ?¦ Such material may include, but is not limited to… discriminatory treatment or language (for example on the grounds of…race…). Appropriate information should also be broadcast where it would assist in avoiding or minimising offence.

Ofcom Decision: Not in breach

Ofcom first considered whether the comment in this particular scene had the potential to cause offence. Slavery and ethnicity are subjects that broadcasters should approach with due caution, especially when they are referred to in a light-hearted context which could result in sensitivities being heightened. In Ofcom’s view, viewers who were aware of the Alex Haley story or the Roots series would have been likely to associate Eva’s reference to Kunte Kinte with the story, and with slavery. In the light-hearted context in which the remark was made, we considered that this reference to slavery had the potential to offend viewers.

Ofcom went on to consider if the broadcast of the material was justified by the context.

Eva Price’s comment was a play on the word roots , which referred to both the colour of her hair at its roots and, through the reference to Kunte Kinte, the title of the 1970s television series. Although the series is well known for depicting the African slave trade in 18th century America, we noted that Eva’s comment did not mention this at all. She only referred to the title of the television series and name of its lead character. We took into account, in particular, that at no point was language broadcast which referred directly to ethnicity or slavery, or in Ofcom’s view, was derogatory or discriminatory.

Ofcom also took into account Eva’s subsequent remark that she did not understand who Kunte Kinte was, and that she was repeating the phrase because it was something her mother used to say. This reflected the foolishness, and lack of sensitivity and cultural awareness, of her character. For her to speak in this thoughtless fashion without understanding what she was referring to, or that it might cause offence, was likely to have been consistent with the audience’s expectations of her character.

We acknowledged that relatively high number of viewers complained to Ofcom, and that some viewers clearly felt very strongly about the remarks in this case. We noted the measures taken by ITV to mitigate the potential offence to these viewers by: writing to all complainants who contacted it directly, making a public statement to the press apologising if the remark had caused any unintended offence, and removing the phrase from subsequent broadcasts of the episode.

Having taking into account all the above factors, we were of the view that this potentially offensive material was justified by the context. Therefore, the material was not in breach of Rule 2.3 of the Code.

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