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Ofcom misjudges Channel 4 viewers
Thursday 11 March 2010
Learning disability charity Mencap today publishes the findings of a poll(i) that shows that three out of five (61 per cent) Channel 4 viewers find the word ‘retard' offensive. The charity is calling on Ofcom to reconsider its refusal to uphold a complaint about the use of the word on Channel 4.
Mencap commissioned the poll following Ofcom's rejection of a complaint by a mother of two disabled children about the broadcasting of the word ‘retard' on Big Brother's Big Mouth on 29 January. The independent regulator dismissed Nicky Clark's claim that it was offensive, telling her: "we consider that this content, although clearly offensive to you, could be justified by the context" and that it wasn't "entirely at odds with the established nature of this programme, which is known for its lively and outspoken content".
In a second letter, Ofcom quoted its own research from 2005, stating that the word ‘retard' "effectively refers to a disability, but many do not see this as an issue." This conflicts directly with the results from Mencap's new poll, which found that only one in ten (9 per cent) of Channel 4 viewers thought the word ‘retard' was ok to use as a joke. Ofcom also concluded in this second letter that "the probable degree of harm and offence was minimal", again contradicting the more recent poll.
Mencap is supporting Nicky Clark in her call for an on air apology from Channel 4, to relay the message that any use of the word ‘retard', and particularly its use on a public platform, is wrong and offensive.
Lloyd Page, spokesperson for Mencap, said: "As someone with a learning disability, I was disgusted and hurt to hear that the word ‘retard' was used on Big Brother. We will never change people's attitudes if this sort of thing carries on. I hope Ofcom will realise why we want this to stop."
Nicky Clark said: "Channel 4 has a commitment to ensure that diversity is fully and positively represented on its channel. If we are to have our faith restored in Channel 4's suitability to broadcast the Paralympics, it needs to show that it regrets this incident by apologising on air."
Mencap is also supporting the Special Olympics Great Britain's global Spread the word to stop the word campaign to eliminate ‘the r-word', which was launched last week and to which over 100,000 people have already pledged their support.
For further information, or to arrange an interview, contact Amy Edmunds on 0207 696 6937, or if calling out-of-hours, 07770 656 659, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes to editors
- (i) About the research
The research was carried out on behalf of Mencap by Opinion Matters between 03 March 2010 and 08 March 2010. 1,488 UK adults were asked about their attitudes towards and use of the word ‘retard'. 1,246 of those surveyed said they watched Channel 4 ‘all the time', ‘often' or ‘occasionally'. For information on Opinion Matters, see http://www.tickbox.net/
- 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 service 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.
- Spread the Word to End the Word
Spread the Word to End the Word was created by youth with and without learning disabilities who participated in the Special Olympics Global Youth Activation Summit last February, held in conjunction with the 2009 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Idaho. The motivation for the campaign was driven by a united passion to promote the positive contributions people with learning disabilities make to communities around the world combined with a simple call to action - a pledge to stop using a word - that also symbolizes positive attitude change and a commitment to make the world a more accepting place for all people.
For more information, visit http://www.r-word.org/