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

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.

This author has not written a biography and will not be writing one.