Ofcom defends BBC’s ‘anti-Scottish’ broadcast

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Broadcasting regulator Ofcom has declared that the ‘anti-Scottish’ comments made by panellists on BBC Radio 4 programme Any Questions did not breach broadcasting standards.

The broadcasting watchdog investigated a complaint regarding comments made by guests Ruth Deech and Douglas Murray on the programme on August 20th.


Broadcasting regulator Ofcom has declared that the ‘anti-Scottish’ comments made by panellists on BBC Radio 4 programme Any Questions did not breach broadcasting standards.

The broadcasting watchdog investigated a complaint regarding comments made by guests Ruth Deech and Douglas Murray on the programme on August 20th.

Baroness Deech, who is a former Governor of the BBC, claimed that Scots lived off of benefits paid for by English subsidies and that Scots politicians should be taken back to Scotland.  Murray claimed that the Scottish parliament as a “horrible charade building” inhabited by MSPs who “crawl out of the darkness” and insulted the integrity of the Scottish NHS doctors who had examined Al Megrahi, referring to them as “alleged doctors”.

Here is an edited recording of Ruth Deech and Douglas Murray’s comments:
{wma}any_questions_200810{/wma}

The comments sparked fury amongst Scottish listeners who have inundated the BBC with a stream of complaints.  Scottish politicians from all parties have described the comments variously as “intemperate and ill informed”, “deeply troubling” and “offensive”.  The SNP’s James Dornan called the comments “anti_Scottish” and “borderline racist”.

However in a judgement detailed in a letter, the broadcasting watchdog Ofcom has described the comments as: “justified by the context” and contained “no malicious or derogatory” intent.  The watchdog also defends the judgement by pointing out that Deech “admitted” that her mother was Scottish.

The watchdog however made no reference to Deech’s assertion that Scots relied on benefits provided by the English, nor did it make reference to Douglas Murray’s arguably more offensive comments.

The judgement by Ofcom is sure to cause further outrage amongst Scots who feel that the programme breeched acceptable standards and are equally outraged by the lack of reporting the issue has received from the within the Scottish media.  At the time of writing, the only journalist to cover the furore has been The Scotsman’s Joan McAlpine.  Newsnet Scotland understands that at least one Scottish newspaper has denied any knowledge of the offensive broadcast.


The explanation provided by Ofcom is reproduced below:

I should say at the outset that Ofcom does not consider that the programme has breached the code [The Communications Act 2003]. Let me explain why.

We assessed your complaint in light of Rule 2.3 of the Code which states that:
In applying generally accepted standards broadcasters must ensure that material which may cause offence must be justified by the context … Such material may include … discriminatory treatment or language.”  The Code goes on to describe a range of factors that can be taken into account, in deciding that potentially offensive material is justified by the context.

In this regard one of the questions put towards the panel in this edition was: “Was the Scottish Government right in releasing the Lockerbie bomber.”

We noted that Baroness Ruth Deech made some comments which were quite disparaging of the Scottish Government and Scotland’s nationalist leanings, however we could not say this was said with any deliberate or malicious attempt to denigrate Scotland or its people as a whole.  She was seeking to make a point about Scottish nationalism and the expression of nationalism in the context of the Scottish government making the decision to free the bomber.  We appreciate you feel the comments and the tone were offensive however we are satisfied they were justified by the context, given the nature of the programme.

In considering the complaints under rule 2.3, Ofcom is aware that in maintaining generally accepted standards, broadcasters are allowed to broadcast offensive content, as long as it is justified by the context.  Furthermore, Ofcom is mindful that in reaching its decision, it must do so in a way that is compatible with Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights.  Article 10 provides for the right of freedom of expression, which encompasses the right to hold opinions, and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority.  Applied to broadcasting, Article 10 therefore enshrines the broadcasters right to transmit material as well as the audiences right to receive it as long as the broadcaster ensures compliance with the Rules of the Code and the requirements of statutory and common law.

Ofcom is aware that Any Questions is a well established programme format on Radio 4 which is aimed at a discernable adult audience, and in which contributors often give their strongly held views on a range of issues, and which listeners have come to expect that controversial opinions will be robustly expressed.  It is inevitable, therefore, that at times some of the views expressed might be challenging for some listeners.

We are also mindful that half the panel were Scottish, and Deech admitted her mother was Scottish, which suggests that there was no malicious or derogatory intent behind such comments.  As such, Ofcom considered that these remarks, though offensive to some, were within the range of legitimate debate in response to the given question.

Given the above, and that this content was likely not to have gone beyond the expectations of the likely audience for this programme, Ofcom considered that the comments, though offensive to some, could be justified by the context, and were not in breach off Rule 2.3.

We do recognise that our decision might not lessen the offence you felt, but I should like to take this opportunity of thanking you for contacting us with your concerns on this matter.

Yours Sincerely
Robert Ince

Ofcom
Riverside House
2a Southwark Bridge Road
London SE1 9HA


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