Hyper-sensitivities and sensibilities: the real damage done by the Beeb’s handling of the Clarkson and Lowe incidents

BBC camera

From the London Evening Standard 12/05/14 | Sam Leith | "Hang the DJ? It’s panic time at the BBC"

[Would you expect to be sacked] if you thoughtlessly played an old record that contained th[e] [n] word on local radio? You’d think not. But that’s what happened to BBC Radio Devon DJ David Lowe, 68, after he broadcast a 1932 recording of The Sun Has Got His Hat On.

Mr Lowe says he didn’t know verse two contained the jaunty couplet: “He’s been tanning n****** out in Timbuktu./ Now he’s coming back to do the same to you.” But it did, and it was broadcast, someone complained and Lowe was dished for a word sung by someone else a decade and a half before he was born.

What we’re seeing is the news entering a weird sort of Clarkson n-word postmodern death-spiral. It seems pretty clear it’s not the PC-gone-mad brigade who claimed Lowe’s scalp. Rather, it was BBC managers panicking, precisely because of the Clarkson coverage, about the terrifying power of the PC-gone-mad brigade.

The BBC’s response to the Clarkson and Lowe incidents is as fine a piece of ill-judgement as you’re ever likely to see.

But an important point that I haven’t seen made particularly strongly so far is the real damage that the Beeb’s response is having. By panicking and falling over themselves to show that they’re ‘doing something’, they risk doing real damage to what really matters here – equality and race relations.

Surely responsible journalism, which should be one of the BBC’s overriding objectives, dictates that a calm and correct approach is called for on a topic as important as this. This is not a time for snap judgements and careless overreactions.

The BBC have a habit of slipping into ‘headless chicken’ mode, largely driven by an insatiable mania of being seen to do the ‘right thing’ and an innate desire to hush up any sniff of controversy. What the BBC should have done is tackle the issues head-on and encourage liberal debate so that the monumental shift in attitudes towards race, tolerance and equality that the world has been fortunate enough to see over the last few decades can be explored and properly celebrated.

Panic helps no one. And us licence payers deserve better, quite frankly.

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