Friday, May 25, 2007

Celebrity Big Brother: Ofcom verdict

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.
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
her arse.
(Background conversation)
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:
There is no evidence, however, to suggest that the insult was motivated by racism or indeed had anything at all to do with Shilpa’s race.

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:
We therefore do not believe that in light of this backdrop, the term
“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:
Channel Four said that Jo O’Meara and Danielle Lloyd were clearly within their rights
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:
This [the motivation[ may or may not be the case (and of course, it is not possible to know with any certainty what the motivation behind these comments was), but we considered whether the content of the words were such that they could reasonably be viewed as potentially offensive on the grounds of race, or any other grounds.

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:
In Ofcom’s review of all the incidents in which the housemates were broadcast mimicking accents, we noted that many housemates did in fact imitate each other and this was mostly done in good humour. Shilpa Shetty, herself, mimicked others, in particular Jade Goody (for example, she mocks Jade Goody at one point on her pronunciation of the word “whale”). On the whole, where the mimicking was not good humoured, there was no direct evidence to suggest that the motivation was racist. For instance, when Jo O’Meara imitates Shilpa Shetty’s apparent “whinging” to Jade Goody and Danielle Lloyd (transmitted Saturday 13 January 2007 on the main show), it is the tone and pitch of her voice that is singled out and made the main focus of the imitation rather than the accent.

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:
This argument was certainly extremely uncomfortable viewing and at certain times shocking. It was made more so, by the comments of Jo O’Meara and Danielle Lloyd during and after the fight, which were regarded by some as supportive of Jade Goody’s behaviour:
“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:
Ofcom has noted various definitions of the term “white trash” in ublished, as well as online dictionaries. “White trash” appears to be a slang term that is usually used to refer to what some describe as poor and uneducated white people. Whilst we understand that the term “white trash” literally refers to a particular group (i.e. certain white people), we consider it generally accepted that the expression refers to a socioeconomic group, rather than a racial one. We noted that Jermaine Jackson referred to The Jerry Springer Show immediately after his use of “white trash” to expand on what he meant by the term (“Have you heard about the show Jerry Springer, where they bring people and tell all their business and they go crazy? They get people like that because they have no self-respect sometimes…”). Again, this indicated that Jermaine Jackson’s use of the expression did not appear to be concerned with race, but with class and culture.

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.


Unknown said...

Grreat ennertainment though, innit Si? Gets the punters flocking in, the old indignation flowing. Your forensic approach is admirable, but sorry this contrived BB outrage was getting tiresome in January. Some nonebrities committed career hari kiri with some stupid racist comments on a dying on its arse format reality show? If you were that repelled you wouldn't write about it at all would you.

Sarah Ditum said...

*Taps foot impatiently* Where have all the Jo fans gone to? One of my absolute fave No Rock things is when the hordes flood in, and now they've let me down. What a shame if all that passionate support had fallen apart just because Jo turned out to be an obnoxious, ignorant no-mark.

Anonymous said...

I'm confused. Channel 4 say "Jo O’Meara’s ignorance of Indian culture is made clear to viewers". But Jo has repeatedly pleaded "I can't be racist, I've got Indian relatives".

Is it me, or does this boil down to "I've got Indian relatives... I just don't talk to them"? Or are O'Meara family gatherings constantly livened up by Jo's astonishment that her relatives are using knives and forks rather than their fingers?

Simon Hayes Budgen said...

Tom: "If you were that repelled, you wouldn't write about it at all"

That doesn't even make any sense - why would I not write about something just because I disagreed with it?

To be honest, the piece on the Ofcom verdict is more for completeness than its own right - back in January I said I'd return to the subject when Ofcom reported; I would have done had Ofcom cleared the programme.

And it's not "contrived" - I am actually angry at the way O'Meara, Lloyd and Goody behaved, at the way it made this country look overseas, and at the way O'Meara tried to argue that she'd not been involved in racist bullying. If you really think it doesn't matter that people can mouth off in an ignorant way simply because they're doing it on a worn-out TV format, then that's your call. I don't think the context changes the offensiveness of it all; I don't think that the people involved were minor celebrities excuses their behaviour.

Anonymous said...

Well they mouthed off, they were rightly slated and mostly destroyed their own careers. They were ignorant and racist on a programme which encouraged them to do so. If this prompts people to switch off from BB8 en masse then something might have been accomplished, but I rather think the opposite might be the case due to the continued oxygen of publicity the media (yourself included) continue to supply.

Anonymous said...

Its a nice site and one thats on the list to be covered :) expect a post soon...

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