The head of BBC One Jay Hunt gave an excellent interview on the Today Programme this morning explaining the reasons behind the decision to suspend – not ‘sack’ - Carol Thatcher from the One Show for her ‘golliwog’ remarks.
She made two important points. First, that the comments were not made in ‘private’ as Thatcher’s supporters have claimed but in a BBC green room with 12 other people present (including journalists), with Carol on BBC time in her role as a reporter for the One Show.
Second, that the BBC has a responsibility to its audience and that it simply was not appropriate to employ someone who thought it was acceptable to use the word ‘golliwog’ as a joke – a term viewed as a highly offensive and indeed racist by a sizeable proportion of the BBC audience.
Meanwhile the spat between Derek Draper and Iain Dale over the controversy continues to rumble on. My blog on the affair yesterday which was cross-posted on Labour List seems to have generated a fair bit of comment. One commentator Adam in London raised the issue of BBC double standards over its treatment of Chris Moyles, Jonathon Ross and Russell Brand in comparison to Thatcher. My response, which I also posted on the Labour List site, is below:
Can't argue with you on the point about Chris Moyles and I am not here to defend the BBC. He should be sacked. He won't be, because he is too popular, but then that's ratings for you. They do funny things to to director generals' heads. Ditto the case with Russell and Brand.
Nonetheless the BBC was right to fire Carol Thatcher over her comments, however innocuous they may seem. After the Celebrity Big Brother debacle broadcasters began to realise that the only way to deal with racist language was to operate a zero tolerance policy towards it; otherwise they can be accused by their audiences of turning a blind to or even condoning racist attitudes - which is exactly what happened in the case of Big Brother and Channel 4.
Of course if an employee at a 'normal' organisation had used the same phrase as Thatcher the sack would rightly have been seen as a bit of an over reaction, although some form of disciplinary action would surely have been appropriate.
But the fact is the BBC has its reputation as a public broadcaster to think about and for the reasons mentioned above simply can't be seen to tolerate the use of such language by its employees. Thatcher ought to have known the word 'golliwog' was likely to cause offense to sizeable proportion of her audience, even if she didn't intend to be racist. She is the daughter of a former PM, after all.
And don't give me that guff about what she said was in private and therefore somehow off limits. Why is something any less offensive because it happens to be said behind closed doors?
To go back to Iain Dale's role in the whole affair, by leaping so readily to Thatcher's defense I think at best he has been quite naive and worse rather insensitive to the effect the everyday use of such language has on ethnic minorities. He should apologise, and move on.