Some of the comments on the story we did back during Celebrity Big Brother insisted that Jo O'Meara couldn't possibly have been taking part in racist bullying, because, for example, she sang songs which meant she was "shy" (sorry, sensitively creative), she didn't appear to be doing any racist bullying in the backstage bits of S Club 7 live videos, and because she said she wasn't.
Now, Ofcom have published their findings following complaints about the series. What did they think?
Of course, their remit was not to decide on what was said, but how it was broadcast, but it did fall to Ofcom to investigate the nature of what was said in the first place. Their starting point is some of the transcripts:
I just don’t like that. I don’t fucking trust her.
No, I don’t trust her. I don’t trust her – at all.
(SHOTS IN BEDROOM OF SHILPA AND CAROLE)
No buts ay - she’s a dog.
What did she say? Danielle? What did she say?
I need a wee. I need a poo. I need a wee but I’ve got to wipe
Jo (to Danielle)
Behave yourself, Mrs.
Danielle (in toilet)
She’s a dog.
No, but like me, you and Jade get on.
Friday 12 January 2007, transmitted on the main show on 13 January 2007
Channel 4 suggests that, while this is nasty, it's not racially nasty, and that Jo might have called Shilpa a dog, she didn't mean it:
Certainly the editorial team did not then and do not now view it as racist. That is not to say the remark was viewed as pleasant. In any event, at the time it is also clear that Jo, although she laughs at the comment, has some reservations about it - making the comment ‘behave yourself Mrs’ to Danielle.
It is also Jo later on that night and the following morning who makes it clear that she thinks the comments were terrible and urges Danielle not to drink again and to apologise to Shilpa. Accordingly, although not pleasant, the context of the show and the ongoing series made the inclusion of it totally justified by context and within the Code rules.
In addition, Channel 4 points to Jo's role in helping engineer a rapprochment between Jade and Shilpa the next day.
Ofcom suggests that "while offensive to some", this is pretty much par for the Big Brother course:
“dog” would have gone beyond the Big Brother audience’s expectations. In the
context of the day’s events, the comment was clearly made by Danielle Lloyd in the
belief that Shilpa Shetty had somehow had a role in Carole Malone’s eviction. It was,
therefore, used by Danielle Lloyd as a generic term of abuse as opposed to a racial
insult, and would have given viewers an insight into the housemate’s character.
Then, there was the "Indians are thin because of their poor hygiene":
I said, maybe they cook them differently in India, might do mightn’t they?
They probably fucking cook it for, like…
That’s why they’re all thin, because they’re sick all the time, because they’re ill.
They’re ill off Shilpa’s cooking.
The thing that aggravates me with Shilpa is she fingers your food off your plate. You could see when she was picking the onions, just with her fingers, she’s just done it to Ian as well, she went ‘oh this chicken is fine’ [mimics Shilpa’s accent] and on his plate, started eating his chicken off-of his plate. That grates me.
Do they do that in India, eat with their hands or is that in China?
It’s in India isn’t it?
Not sure, I don’t like all that though.
I don’t know where her fingers have been.
Channel 4 suggested that this is merely ignorance, rather than racism:
to be concerned about potential food safety and hygiene issues if they perceived
there was a risk. By making a crude generalisation that all Indian people are thin and suffer from food poisoning because of the way they cook chicken – particularly in a way that suggests this is humorous – Jo O’Meara’s ignorance of Indian culture is made clear to viewers. Similarly Danielle Lloyd’s comment asking whether it is India or China where people eat with their hands highlights her clear ignorance of other cultures. Nonetheless, Channel Four considered that the comments “…stop short of being clearly motivated by actual racial prejudice”.
So, suggesting that a nation of people are unhygenic, and sick, and thin as a result is "humorous" and "short of being motivated by actual racial prejudice" - you have to wonder why the channel believes something as nasty as this can be excuse because it's humourous. NF literature used to include cartoons, which didn't make it any less repugnant.
Certainly, Ofcom didn't buy it for a minute:
There appeared to be two elements to this material which viewers found offensive. The first was the exchange in which Jo O’Meara linked Shilpa Shetty’s cooking to people in India being thin and the second was in Danielle Lloyd linking this personally back to Shilpa Shetty’s cooking, which viewers perceived to be racist bullying. We agree that on the surface, the target of the women’s exchange appeared to be Shilpa Shetty’s cooking. However, their comments extended to generalisations about Indians as a race and therefore had the potential to be viewed as stereotyping Indians as a race and offensive by many.
In considering the exchange, we bore in mind the broadcaster’s response that the above comments needed to be viewed in the context of the day and the growing antagonism over the course of the preparation and eventual consumption of the lunch. However, Ofcom believed that there were other, more pertinent comments (about race and imitations of accents) being made in the House which should have alerted Channel Four to the potential for this exchange to cause offence and the need to apply generally accepted standards.
We agree with Channel Four that expressing a dislike for another person handling the food you are about to eat with their fingers or taking food from your plate with their fingers would not necessarily lead to offence being caused in the broadcast of this material. However, in the context of the remarks which surrounded it (“That’s why they’re all thin, because they’re sick all the time…”; “Do they do that in India?”) and bearing in mind the pejorative way in which such comments could be viewed, Ofcom is of the view that the conversation had the potential to cause serious offence.
Jo O’Meara’s quiet mimicking of Shilpa Shetty’s accent when saying “oh this chicken is fine” also added to the concerns about the offensive nature of this material. This focused the discussion further on race as the issue (and not simply their frustration over the un-cooked chicken), adding to the offence.
We agree with Channel Four that, in the context of a programme like Big Brother, “it was…important that this scene was presented to viewers as a further insight into these girls’ characters”. Notwithstanding that such comments may demonstrate cultural ignorance, the audience’s reaction to this broadcast was bound to be influenced more at this time by concerns that the two women’s comments had the potential to be offensive on grounds of race.
In other words: It might not have been that Jo and Danielle were having a spot of racist Indian-bashing, but it certainly looked like it.
In other findings, Ofcom shares the views of Jo's supporters - for example, that sometimes she managed to do an Indian accent that was just spiteful and vindictive rather than racist:
So, erm, that's alright then.
The regulator also observed that Jo's reaction during the great stock cube row showed support for Jade's bullying of Shilpa:
“I suddenly feel better”
“Jade you’re hilarious”
“Got to say, made my day”
However, the decision on this was that, while the behaviour was "unpleasant", showing it wasn't an error of judgement on the network's part.
Ofcom also considered - along with the Jade Goody, Danielle Lloyd and Jackiey Budden incidents, the Jermaine Jackson "white trash" moment. This bit, where Jermaine supposedly applied the term to the Jade clan, has been seized on by some as some sort of "balance" to the behaviour of O'Meara and friends, or to suggest that the media has only been interested in the white racism in the house, while turning a blind eye to racism coming from the black housemate.
Even had Jermaine been behaving like that, it's hard to see why a single moment of the use of a common phrase would somehow be comparable to sustained gaggle of racist bullying, but Ofcom hit the dictionaries and watched the tapes and concluded it wasn't racist, Jermaine was only using the term in reported speech, it wasn't said with any side, and he only used the term while explicitly not applying it to anyone in the house:
Nonetheless, Ofcom does consider that the term “white trash” may still have the potential to be offensive to some viewers. However, we believe that the term was appropriately justified by context in this specific instance and therefore not in reach of the Code. It is clear from the scene that Jermaine Jackson was merely reporting the use of the expression by others and he explicitly states that he would not himself apply it to Jackiey Budden (“They brought up the word white trash …and I wouldn’t call her that because she’s a human being…”). Neither did Jermaine Jackson use the term in aggressive or mocking terms.
In all, Ofcom found that some of the material shown was inappropriate for broadcast, and that Channel 4 will have to apologise multiple times on air.
It's noticeable that, despite her press interviews complaining about the way she was "edited" to "look bad", Jo O'Meara doesn't appear to have made a formal complaint to Ofcom on that point. Odd, that.