Tell Me Another…Ofcom censors the use of the word ‘coon’ in a chat show anecdote from the 70’s

Posted: 11 January, 2017 in Ofcom TV Censor
Tags: , ,
Read more ow.htm at MelonFarmers.co.uk

tell me anotherTell Me Another
Talking Pictures TV, 24 August 2016, 19:00

Talking Pictures TV is an entertainment channel broadcasting classic films and archive programmes.

Tell Me Another was a talk show originally broadcast between 1976 and 1979 in which stars of the 1960s and 70s recalled personal anecdotes of their experiences in show business.

A complainant alerted Ofcom to the use of the word coon , which they found offensive.

The word featured in an anecdote told by the comedian and singer Joan Turner when describing her first professional appearance on stage at the age of 14 in a theatre in east London in 1937. She described how the dancing girls in the troupe used to tan their legs: in those days the girls didn’t wear tights…they used to make their legs up with what they call ‘wet white’, but it was actually brown . She told how, because her legs were cold and very pale, she borrowed wet white from a dancer and used it to darken her legs and face. Her booking agent however responded by saying, Take that bloody stuff off. You look like a bloody chocolate coloured coon… put that on again, you’re not coming on! .

Ofcom considered Rules:

  • Rule 1.14: The most offensive language must not be broadcast before the watershed .

  • 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, but is not limited to…discriminatory treatment or language (for example on the grounds of…race) .

Talking Pictures TV said that the word complained about occurred in an episode originally broadcast in ITV regions at 18:30 in 1978 and later. It said while we don’t wish to defend the use of the term ‘coon’, we recognise that this was part of the lexicon of the era when the series was first broadcast .

The Licensee pointed out that the word coon was included for the first time only in Ofcom research on offensive language published on 30 September 20161 – a date after the episode of Tell Me Another was broadcast. Previous Ofcom research, including that of 2012 did not assess the word coon .

Talking Pictures said as a result of this case it had stopped broadcasts of this particular episode of Tell Me Another, and also reviewed the whole series against Ofcom’s 2016 offensive language research, to ensure it contained no language that raised concerns. It said it had also increased the frequency of warnings before archive movies and TV shows to forewarn viewers of outdated language.

Ofcom Decision: Breach of Rules 1.14 and 2.3

In our view it was not the interviewee’s intention to be discriminatory towards an ethnic minority or to cause offence. However, we considered that the use of the phrase bloody chocolate coloured coon clearly conveyed a negative reaction by the booking agent to Ms Turner’s skin colour. Even though the phrase was not directed at anyone from an ethnic minority or used in an aggressive manner, it also would have been likely to have been seen by viewers as conveying a discriminatory and racist attitude on the part of the booking agent. These factors, in our view, would have been likely to increase the potential level of offence and on balance made the use of these words inconsistent with viewers’ expectations for this programme on this channel at this time, and particularly for any who may have come across this material unawares.

We acknowledged that the language was broadcast in the context of a comedy entertainment programme made in the 1970s which contained what was intended to be a comic anecdote about comments made in 1937. However, this offensive language (as acknowledged by the Licensee) was broadcast to viewers with no warning beforehand alerting them to potentially offensive language, and without any editorial voice, commentary or other context to mitigate sufficiently the potential offence. We did not consider the fact that the programme had been made many years previously or that the anecdote referred to an earlier era, when attitudes were different, provided sufficient context in this case. In particular, we took into account that this programme was broadcast before the watershed with a potential for children to be in the viewing audience, who would not necessarily have been aware of historical differences in attitudes to offensive language.

Given all these factors, in this case we considered the word coon was an example of the most offensive language broadcast before the watershed in breach of Rule 1.14.

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