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Ofcom backtracks on flawed 'retard' ruling
Monday 24 May 2010
Learning disability charity Mencap welcomes Ofcom's ruling today that Channel 4 breached the Broadcasting Code by broadcasting the word ‘retard' on Big Brother's Big Mouth. Ofcom's decision is a dramatic u-turn on its two previous rulings that Channel 4 had not breached the Code.
Mark Goldring, Mencap's chief executive, said: "We are delighted that Ofcom has changed its mind on this matter. The groundswell of protest and emotion caused by Channel 4's broadcasting of this insulting word has demonstrated just how offensive and degrading a term it is. Ofcom has done the right thing in taking this opportunity to set a standard and make Channel 4 take responsibility for its mistake."
Ismail Kaji, Mencap's campaigns assistant and spokesperson, said: "I am pleased to know that Ofcom has now taken this matter seriously. As a person with a learning disability, I am relieved to see a change in Channel 4's attitude towards this word. Everyone has the right to be respected. There is a lot the media can still do to improve and Ofcom's decision will help to make them think twice about broadcasting language that is hurtful to people with a learning disability."
When Nicky Clark, a mother of two disabled daughters, had her complaint about the incident rejected by Ofcom on two occasions, over 750 Mencap supporters wrote to protest to Ofcom's chief executive, Ed Richards, who referred the case to their Broadcasting Review Committee. Today the Committee took the decision to reverse the previous ruling and uphold Nicky's complaint.
Nicky Clark said: "I am so pleased that Ofcom has upheld my complaint. This is not a call for censorship or to block free speech. It is simply a call for the matter to be dealt with fairly and for the views of disabled people and those of us who love them to be listened to. The word must be judged by the context and in this case it was derogatory."
The independent regulator first dismissed Ms Clark's complaint in February stating: "we consider that this content, although clearly offensive to you, could be justified by the context." Quoting research from 2005, it stated that the word ‘retard' "effectively refers to a disability, but many do not see this as an issue" and concluded that "the probable degree of harm and offence was minimal." It also referenced article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights to assert the audience's "right to receive information and ideas without interference by public authority."
However, in light of the subsequent findings of its Broadcasting Review Committee, Ofcom today ruled that "the comments made by both Mr Jones and Ms McCall in this programme were clearly capable of causing offence." It stated that: "It was the Committee's view that his use of the word "retard" was capable of being understood not as merely a passing reference directed towards Ms McCall, but also as ridiculing those with a physical or learning difficulty, emphasised by his attempt at imitation." The Committee was also concerned "that the programme makers took no action during the programme to seek to mitigate the offence that would have been caused by the comments" and that this "failure suggested a lack of understanding during the live broadcast of how offensive the comments had been."
Mencap's own research carried out in March showed that 6 out of 10 people find the word offensive and that only 1 in 10 think it is ok to use as a joke.
For further information contact Amy Edmunds in the Mencap media team on 020 7696 6937 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes to editors
- About Mencap
Mencap supports the 1.5 million people with a learning disability in the UK and their families and carers. Mencap fights to change laws and improve services and access to education, employment and leisure facilities, supporting thousands of people with a learning disability to live their lives the way they want.
We are also one of the largest providers of services, information and advice for people with a learning disability across England, Northern Ireland and Wales. See http://www.mencap.org.uk/ for more information.
- About learning disability
A learning disability is caused by the way the brain develops before, during or shortly after birth. It is always lifelong and affects someone's intellectual and social development. It used to be called mental handicap but this term is outdated and offensive. Learning disability is NOT a mental illness. The term learning difficulty is often incorrectly used interchangeably with learning disability.