Hearing Jay Hunt on Radio 4’s Today programme this morning defending the BBC’s treatment of Carol Thatcher left me fuming with anger, but also with a nasty feeling that I wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of Ms Hunt’s own righteous indignation.
Clearly she felt that the BBC had acted from the highest moral principles in dismissing Carol Thatcher from the One Show because, during the relaxation time after the show, the latter had described a black tennis player as looking like a golliwog.
This is how Ms Hunt justified that response:
What Carol decides to say in the privacy of her own home or in a private conversation with friends is one thing. What she says in a greenroom space, when there are 12 people [there], in her capacity as a roving reporter for the One Show is a rather different thing.
On this occasion, her using this phrase and it being overheard and having caused offence to a number of people was totally inappropriate. It was deemed inappropriate in the circumstances for her to continue to work on a show that prides itself not just on the diversity of its production team but on the range of its coverage across the country. I think everybody will be able to see that that is not an appropriate place for her to work.
Now, as I recall, this is the same BBC — is it not? — that a couple of years ago broadcast Jerry Springer: The Opera. Before the broadcast they were asked not to go ahead, on the grounds that the show would be offensive to a large number of people. After the broadcast, OFCOM received an unprecedented number of complaints. Yet the BBC remained not merely unapologetic, but adamant that it had done the right thing.
This is also the same BBC which allows Jonathan Ross a public forum for a constant stream of innuendo and suggestive comments. Ross is someone with a proven track-record of unpleasantness, but the BBC pays him literally millions to retain his services.
The BBC’s response, of course, is that viewers can always turn off. But then people who overhear a private conversation can always move away.
Clearly it is not the number of people you offend that counts at the BBC, but how you offend them. If the offense is caused by something the BBC management consider offensive, then it is actionable, if the offense is caused by something the management deem inoffensive, then it is acceptable.
The real issue here is not whether it is OK to liken a black man to a golliwog, or to broadcast a song which says that the Virgin Mary was raped by an angel, but how the guardians of morality at the BBC perceive themselves.
And a clue to that can be seen in Ms Hunt’s use of the word ‘diversity’. This is, of course, code for the social application of a particular view of morality — a view which is, if necessary, to be inculcated by force and by social re-education, as in the case of Christian nurse Caroline Petrie who, because she had shown insensitivity to her patients was recommended to attend an ‘equality and diversity’ course.
In the old days of the Maoist Cultural Revolution, the same approach was used with the bourgeoisie, who needed not only to be made aware of their crimes, but made to accuse themselves of being criminals in the first place. Though this was deliberately punitive, it was similarly designed to achieve moral reform according the lights of its administrators.
Meanwhile, from the tone in Ms Hunt’s voice she clearly views herself in the role of one striking down “with great vengeance and furious anger” on the unrighteous. But it is the narrowness of her moral viewpoint, not the vehemence of her desire to purify the BBC, which is most the serious cause for concern — that, and the blindness to the fault. Mote and beam surely springs to mind.
Revd John Richardson
5 February 2009