People have opinions 

24 July 2009

Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson faces row over new Gordon Brown slurs

Perhaps as predictable as night following day, controversial TV presenter Jeremy Clarkson has again stirred the proverbial hornets’ nest courtesy of an insult made about Prime Minister Gordon Brown as part of a not-for-transmission joke told to the Top Gear studio audience.

But should anyone actually be bothered by this?

After all, on this occasion it at least did not involve any implied mocking of a disability unlike the last time. Plus we should by now be very familiar of Clarkson’s form in this regard, and he was made aware of any potential disquiet soon after the event therefore there was no lack of counterbalance as a consequence.

Now if he had again mocked Gordon Brown’s sight affliction in public then that would have been a serious misjudgement, and there would be justifiable pressure as a consequence placed upon BBC management in respect to the continued employment of Jeremy Clarkson.

If truth be told, it’s a collective anti-BBC sentiment being shared in some quarters combined with recent editorial slip-ups and scandals which have made parts of the media hypersensitive to what BBC presenters and staff say both on and off-camera.

Pointing the finger has become a national pastime, it seems, especially when combined with the relatively high salary of certain presenters involved in recent media-related scandals for which much of the blame can be attributed to lapses in both management and corporate relations.

Which neatly brings us back full circle to the antics of Jeremy Clarkson.

We have to step back at this point and be collectively very careful to distinguish between a personal dislike for a particular individual, and an insult that targets a particular person’s characteristic or creed; something which they can’t do anything about.

For anyone wishing to make further capital from this event, I would remind them of the fact that in certain other countries it is actually an imprisonable offence to insult a particular country’s ruling monarchy or government. Do we really want to erode free speech to that degree?

If anything it’s ironic that journalists of all people should be critical about such a thing when many of their ilk would on other occasions go out of their way to protect the principles of (usually, their) free speech within the media, even if they are wrong.

And if presenters step out of line for any reason whatsoever, the response should be appropriate to the offence involved and should not consist of an excessive kneejerk reaction, as was arguably the case when a Blue Peter producer was sacked for the misnaming of a cat.

Such events have left BBC management wide open for accusations of double standards, especially when it appears to be the case that a presenter appears to be consistently controversial yet superficially unsackable just because they happen to have a popular following, even if they haven’t actually (yet?) overstepped the mark.

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