BBC’s differential responses to racism: Jeremy Clarkson vs David Starkey

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Jeremy Clarkson has never been a stranger to controversy. In his latest problem the Daily Mirror obtained film (not broadcast on the BBC) of him reciting the Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe rhyme and including the ‘n’ word albeit muttered and only semi audible. Initially the Clarkson denied using the word but as now issued an apology and has claimed that the BBC has given him a final warning.

The BBC has made a statement:

“Jeremy Clarkson has set out the background to this regrettable episode. We have made it absolutely clear to him the standards the BBC expects on air and off.
“We have left him in no doubt about how seriously we view this.”

Clearly Clarkson and Top Gear have a history of unfortunate and potentially racist comments the most recent being use of the term “slope” in a double entendre during a film in Thailand. This episode is now part of a legal complaint by actor Somi Guha:

From the Daily Express:

In her formal written complaint to the BBC, she says: “Casual racism in the media by established BBC stalwarts is constantly brushed aside.
“Discrimination within the industry is accepted. Racial profiling of roles is accepted and expected.
“I find it offensive that Jeremy Clarkson refers to people of different races in pejorative terms.

Whilst some may regard these casual remarks as simply riske humour others certainly do not and the BBC seems to be gradually coming round to a similar view. Even leaving aside the controversies, Top Gear does seem to be getting close to having run its course, even amongst it fans: though how willing the BBC would be either to sack Clarkson or can Top Gear (if the first could be done without the latter) is unclear.

An aspect of potential BBC hypocrisy which has thus far not been mentioned is that Top Gear’s racism may be seen as tongue in cheek, non serious etc. but has attracted the Corporation’s ire to an apparently greater extent than David Starkey’s straightforward, straight faced racism three years ago after the riots in England. On that occasion Starkey made the outrageously ill-informed and racist comments:

The whites have become black. A particular sort of violent, destructive, nihilistic, gangster culture has become the fashion. And black and white, boy and girl, operate in this language together, this language which is wholly false, which is this Jamaican patois that’s been intruded in England, and this is why so many of us have this sense of literally a foreign country”

This was one of the most spectacular pieces of racism on the BBC in years which grouped all black peoples’ cultures into one and identified it as pro gangs and criminality. No sign of humour there and no tongues visible or otherwise in any cheeks. Ed Milliband and many others complained (though a very few tried to defend the indefensible). Starkey denied his comments were racist and the BBC issued a much more anaemic statement regarding Starkey’s remarks (broadcast on their flagship serious news programme) than it did over Clarkson’s:

The BBC said:

“Whilst we acknowledge that some people will have found David Starkey’s comments offensive he was robustly challenged by presenter Emily Maitlis and the other contributors who took issue with his comments.
“Owen Jones particularly highlighted that many people listening would find the views expressed offensive, and Emily provided further context making it clear that David Cameron had said this was not a race issue and that people taking part in the riots came from a range of ethnic backgrounds.”

It appears that sometimes the BBC takes racism more seriously than others and that an academic trying to make a pretty deeply racist (and grossly inaccurate) point in a serious fashion is less bad than silly jokes in what is essentially a comedy show. The BBC’s moral compass seems to have gone seriously wrong again: either that or a row on Newsnight and in the broadsheets is less noticed and as such less important than on a popular show such as Top Gear and in the tabloids. Either way for the BBC avoiding the charge of hypocrisy seems difficult.

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  • Reader

    Turgon: It appears that sometimes the BBC takes racism more seriously than others and that an academic trying to make a pretty deeply racist (and grossly inaccurate) point in a serious fashion is less bad than silly jokes in what is essentially a comedy show.
    Historians do have a habit of making dramatic sweeping statements:
    http://www.amazon.com/Irish-Became-White-Routledge-Classics/dp/0415963095
    So maybe it’s a bad idea to let them loose on hot topics in current affairs.
    Either that, or make allowances for the quirks of both historians and comedians.

  • Harry Flashman

    Starkey described accurately the appearance and behaviour of the feral youths, black and white, involved in the riots of 2011.

    If we are too afraid to speak honestly about facts that are staring us in the face without shrieks of “You can’t say that!!!!” even when society is descending into chaos, we do not deserve the right to say anything.

  • http://igaeilge.wordpress.com Concubhar

    I have recently lodged a formal complaint with BBC Ni over the continued lack of professionalism displayed by some presenters who consistently mangle the pronunciation of names as Gaeilge and then try to laugh it off. When you consider that news and current affairs presenters/reporters in the BBC would go to painstaking efforts to get the correct pronunciation of names in any other language, their difficulties with names in Irish suggest a blind spot which never was acceptable and, in the context of the Jeremy Clarkson saga, suggests something more sinister than lack of professionalism and incompetence.

  • Reader

    Concubhar: …continued lack of professionalism displayed by some presenters who consistently mangle the pronunciation of names as Gaeilge and then try to laugh it off.
    Did you use the word ‘consistently’ in the formal complaint? That might have been a tactical error.
    Also, I’m not sure what ‘context’ is shared between an un-broadcast snippet from Top Gear and live bloopers from BBC NI News.

  • Niall Noigiallach

    BBC racist? Well I never.

    This is the station that gave us The Nolan Show flegger episode. Why would they want to encourage bigotry?

  • http://igaeilge.wordpress.com Concubhar

    Reader, I don’t consider these failures by the BBC presenters concerned as ‘bloopers’ but a deliberate attempt to display their hostility to the Irish language and that I feel is very much as a shared context with the allegations of racism against Jeremy Clarkson….

  • Reader

    Concubhar: Reader, I don’t consider these failures by the BBC presenters concerned as ‘bloopers’…
    You have the advantage of me as I hadn’t noticed a pattern. However, in a mixed workplace I have noticed cross-community colleagues – brimming with goodwill – struggling with Irish names. The decider seems to be whether there was e.g. an Aoife in your class or not. It isn’t just us Huns that struggle with Irish pronunciation.

  • ayeYerMa

    This whole complete and utter obsession in England where Gramscian extremists are continually trying to prove just how utterly wonderfully feel-good “non-racist” they are has got entirely out of hand. The definition of the word is extremely wide (technically, even discussing the factual genetic or cultural diversity between peoples who have evolved in different geographies can be considered “racist” by the dictionary definition) and therefore is increasingly being used as little other than an insult and PC silencing tactic even when no malice or hatred is involved by the “perpetrator”.

    It’s almost got to the stage similar to whereby if you disagree with Sinn Fein/IRA on anything you are apparently “sectarian” or “bigoted”. Thank goodness most of the NI public deal with it in the most appropriate manner – ignoring it like water off a duck’s back.

  • Son of Strongbow

    The local BBC is indeed a shocker and I’ve also made a formal complaint.

    When watching the channel’s Irish language output spoken Irish is subtitled in English. However when English is spoken there are no Irish subtitles.

    Shocking undervaluing of English, to say nothing of ruining the continuity of the programme for Irish speakers.

  • David Crookes

    I know people who make a great fuss over the N-word. The same people are happy to blaspheme the Christian religion in public forums. If they lived in militant Muslim areas they would take great care not to blaspheme the Islamic religion. What offends them is very very bad, but their own offensive language is OK. I can’t take these people seriously.

    The thought police will jump on anyone who uses words that the thought police arbitrarily pronounce to be offensive. Don’t look for equitability in the hellishly random dictatorship of the PC world.

  • jagmaster

    As much as I dislike Starkey’s inherent snobbery I don’t believe he was directly employed by the BBC when he appeared on Question Time, rather he was a guest on a panel show that happened to be broadcast by the BBC.

    I would think the BBC see a distinction between a guest and a very well paid employee like Clarkson expressing questionable views.

  • Turgon

    jagmaster,
    Starkey has presented many programmes on the BBC probably on much the same basis as Clarkson. He is also likely to have received at least some reimbursement for appearing on Newnsnight though I agree he may well not have been an employee per se on that occasion. Trying to disentangle his appearances on the basis of employee and non employee is unlikely to be useful.

    Furthermore Clarkson did not use the ‘n’ word on a programme aired by the BBC. It was an out take. Starkey did make his remarks on TV.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Reader:

    You have the advantage of me as I hadn’t noticed a pattern.

    Certain people are adept at picking up patterns, slights, insults and other things that are invisible to the rest of us.

  • http://fitzjameshorselooksattheworld.wordpress.com/ fitzjameshorse1745

    I think it completely misses the point to liken Clarkson…a right wing oaf to Starkey a right wing snob.
    The issue is not political correctness.
    It is Decency.
    I have no time for either.
    Nor do I have time for Russell Brand and Jonothan Ross, who are allegedly “right on”.
    The real issue is their sense of Entitlement.
    A few years ago Brand and Ross behaved very badly in relation to Andrew Sachs.
    It strikes me that if a Low level BBC employee on minimum wage had found Andrew Sachs phone number and made a prank phone call ….then there would be one consequence…the sack.
    Likewise if a low level BBC employee and the N word.

    The sense of Entitlement of the Rich and famous is the issue.

  • mrmrman

    Apart from the clumsy opening line everything Starkey says is precise and accurate. There is a destructive, misogynistic, violent element within “black” communities which had attracted “white” participants. That is an undeniable fact and indeed is source of the Ali G and other parodied.

    The problem here is we don’t have the language to discuss issues like this without leaving oneself open to accusations of racism. For instance the word black itself is questionable. Considering the etymology offensive words like negro, the word Suarez used and the n word I find it’s continued use surprising. It’s really an American import and only makes sense when describing the culturally disposed descendants of the slave trade.

    To reduce immigrants from an entire continent, and a wider diaspora to one word describing the colour of their skin seems at odds modern sensibilities.

  • jagmaster

    As I recall fitz “Sachsgate” was a monumental screw up by all concerned. The controller of Radio 2 and Brand resigned whilst Ross was suspended for 12 weeks with no pay and was so rattled by what happened he quit the BBC altogether not long afterwards. You only have to watch his rubbish chat show on UTV to see how far he’s fallen.

  • Sp12

    The differential responses are a simple result of the differences in revenue that Clarkson and Starkey earn for the BBC. Top Gear is one of, if not the biggest revenue spinner for the BBC, it has netted the BBC world wide service well over 200 million in the last 4 or 5 years, Clarkson (I believe) owns a large stake in the ‘format’ of the revamped Top Gear, it was he who pitched the show’s new formula to the BBC.
    Clarkson is Top Gear. Thus Top Gear is a bunch of rich middle aged white men punching down, which sadly, is why so many of it’s viewers seem to think he’s some sort of maverick.

    Starkey made a stupid comment, on it’s own it was borderline racist, but as a historian offering contemporary analysis on the causes of the London riots it was risible.

    Starkey can be offed without effecting Auntie’s output, in the same way a football commentator can be, Clarkson cannot. He’ll probably make another few vulgar comments before the end of the year.

    It’s another example of the looney left liberal media keeping an eye on the bottom line gone mad, so it is!

  • http://www.selfhatinggentile.blogger.com tmitch57

    “I have recently lodged a formal complaint with BBC Ni over the continued lack of professionalism displayed by some presenters who consistently mangle the pronunciation of names as Gaeilge and then try to laugh it off.”

    @Concuhar,

    The pronunciation rules for Irish are a bit more involved than those for say Spanish, Italian and Serbo-Croatian. Also, the British like my own people are not generally noted for their facility with foreign languages. So it is not surprising that sometimes the names get mangled. If the Irish had been as successful at bringing back Irish to everyday usage as the Zionists were with Hebrew, it would not even be an issue.

    “The problem here is we don’t have the language to discuss issues like this without leaving oneself open to accusations of racism. For instance the word black itself is questionable. Considering the etymology offensive words like negro, the word Suarez used and the n word I find it’s continued use surprising. It’s really an American import and only makes sense when describing the culturally disposed descendants of the slave trade. ”

    @mrmrman,

    Actually the n word was widely used by the British colonialists throughout Africa. It is not inherently offensive–it is simply the Latin work for black as in color, just as negro is the Portuguese and Spanish word. What I find interesting is that the classical language word is the one that became the vulgar term and the modern language term the offensive one. Incidentally I know from personal experience of where I’ve lived that there is quite a bit of hypocrisy about the use of the n word–I think that anyone who uses it should be fair game for its use.

  • http://www.selfhatinggentile.blogger.com tmitch57

    That should read: the modern language term is the acceptable one.

  • http://igaeilge.wordpress.com Concubhar

    tmitch
    That’s a fair point. I suppose my emphasis would be on the professional duty of these broadcasters to ensure they take as much care with names in Irish as they would in other languages. That duty of care is something which is more noticeable in the breach than the obsservance.
    Comrade Stalin: As an Irish speaker I do pick up on slights, whether real or imagined, to the language I speak. In most cases I give a certain amount of lattitude but in the case of some BBC broadcasters in NI, my patience expired recently and I lodged an official complaint. It’s probably not going to end up in the High Court – but as I see it, as a licence payer, I want to make my complaint.
    Having said that I do think it’s worth pointing out that the Irish language output has improved significiantly in the past few years, thanks I suppose to the Irish Language Broadcast Fund, but mostly to the good work of the indefatigable Irish language unit. THis makes the lapses in other departments of BH all the less forgivable given they have an excellent and expert resource on which to draw when pronunciation challenges present themselves. It’s the standard practice in other units of the BBC elsewhere – the BBC broadcasts in 57 different languages but, it seems to me, gets it wrong more often as Gaeilge.