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Jeremy Clarkson Rapped By OfCom Over ‘Special Needs’ Comment

October 25, 2010

Hooray! This is just one small victory in a constant battle against disablism. It doesn’t look like Clarkson will be sacked by the BBC any time soon, unfortunately, but this OfCom ruling should definitely be celebrated by all those of us who fight disablism. Thank you OfCom!

Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson has been criticised by media regulator Ofcom for describing a car as “special needs” on the BBC2 show.

Clarkson said the Ferrari F430 Speciale was “a bit wrong … that smiling front end … it looked like a simpleton … [it] should have been called the 430 Speciale Needs”.

The BBC said it regretted that the comments had caused offence to some viewers and removed the reference from a repeat of the show on BBC2 and on the iPlayer.

Ofcom, which received two complaints, said it took into account Top Gear’s “irreverent style and sometimes outspoken humour and studio banter”.

But the regulator said “discriminatory language of this nature has the potential to be very offensive to some viewers, as it could be seen to single out certain sections of society in a derogatory way because of their disability”.

“In Ofcom’s view, the comments made by Jeremy Clarkson in this instance were capable of causing offence. In particular, on this occasion he was clearly criticising the car’s physical appearance by directly comparing it to ‘a simpleton’ and saying it should have been called ‘430 Speciale Needs’,” the regulator added.

“In Ofcom’s opinion, while obviously intended as a joke and not aimed directly at an individual with learning difficulties, the comment could easily be understood as ridiculing people in society with a particular physical disability or learning difficulty.”

Ofcom said it considered the matter resolved after the BBC took “immediate steps” in response to viewers’ complaints to remove the comments from the repeat of the show and online.

Clarkson made the comments in the edition of the show broadcast at 9.30pm on 1 August this year.

“The BBC said that Clarkson’s intention in describing the car as ‘speciale needs’ and the front end of it as looking like a ‘simpleton’ was as a light-hearted reference to the look of the car (the front of which has the appearance of a broad smile) in contrast to a newer model, which was praised by Mr Clarkson. The BBC said that it was the car itself that was the subject of the fun being poked at and its owner, co-presenter James May,” said Ofcom in its ruling today.

“Ofcom also noted that the BBC accepted that the inclusion of the comments had caused some members of the audience offence. This was reflected in the fact that they had chosen to remove these comments from the repeat versions of the programme and from the version of the programme available on BBC iPlayer.

“Ofcom acknowledged that the BBC took immediate steps in response to complaints it received about the programme. In particular the BBC had voluntarily removed the comments from the iPlayer version of the programme and the repeat version broadcast several days later, and made the decision not to repeat the programme in its original format. It had also apologised for any offence caused by the comments, underlining that there was no intent to make fun of those with special needs.”

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