Tuesday, 4 November 2008

*Ofcom set to clear Jeremy Clarkson over prostitutes quip


Patrick Foster, Media Correspondent / November 4, 2008

Ofcom, the broadcasting watchdog, is set to dismiss complaints about a joke by Jeremy Clarkson, the presenter of BBC's Top Gear, about lorry drivers killing prostitutes, The Times has learnt.

The controversial broadcaster made an offhand remark on Sunday night's programme, on BBC2, as he and fellow presenters James May and Richard Hammond found out what it was like to drive heavy goods vehicles.

Clarkson suggested that "murdering prostitutes" was as much an issue for lorry drivers as fuel economy.

He said: "This is a hard job and I'm not just saying that to win favour with lorry drivers, it's a hard job.

"Change gear, change gear, change gear, check mirror, murder a prostitute, change gear, change gear, murder. That's a lot of effort in a day."

Notorious prostitute killers Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, and Steve Wright, also known as the Suffolk Strangler, were both lorry drivers.

This morning the BBC said it had received 517 complaints about the joke, with Ofcom also confirming that it had received calls about the show.

But it is understood that the industry regulator, which is thought to have received only a handful of complaints, is likely to rule that the comments did not fall foul of the broadcasting code.

An Ofcom spokesman said: "We are looking at complaints we have received but are not currently investigating the programme."

The complaints come in the week after the corporation was shaken by the row over obscene phone calls on Radio 2, which saw Jonathan Ross suspended without pay for 12 weeks, and Russell Brand and Lesley Douglas, the station controller, resigned.

Prostitute welfare groups said that the remarks were insensitive. A spokeswoman from English Collective of Prostitutes said: "This is a truly heartless comment."

Brian Tobin, director of the ICENI Project, an Ipswich charity that had worked with some of the prostitutes killed by Wright, said: "I just think it was highly distasteful and insensitive. Maybe people on the BBC should think a bit more before saying some of the things they keep coming out with.

"It is around the time of the anniversary of the girls' deaths and it's a very delicate time. I saw it on Top Gear. It made me cringe."

A BBC spokeswoman said: "The vast majority of Top Gear viewers have clear expectations of Jeremy Clarkson's long-established and frequently provocative on-screen persona.

"This particular reference was used to comically exaggerate and make ridiculous an unfair urban myth about the world of lorry driving, and was not intended to cause offence."

May defended his colleague. Speaking on Radio 5 Live he said: "We did put it through the compliance lot and they said it was okay. Lorry drivers are free to go and kick Jeremy's head in if they see him by the side of the road.

"It's Jeremy. He's being bombastic. I don't think for a moment anyone imagines that he actually means it. He doesn't really believe that all lorry drivers murder prostitutes or that they should. He's being deliberately fatuous. It's what he does."


So what the BBC and James May are saying is that it's OK to be offensive as long as you are Jeremy Clarkson.

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