Viewers report racism, bias, irresponsibility to BBC's plaint unit

MUMBAI: Racism in the term Paki, factual inaccuracy in a war report, perceived irresponsibility in the popular car show Top Gear and bias towards a US presidential candidate on a radio show. These were just a few of the different kinds of charges that the BBC's Programme Complaints Unit (PCU) fully or partly upheld from the viewers. The PCU report was for the period 1 January to 31 March 2004 for the UK.

The PCU deals with complaints which give reason to believe that something broadcast by the BBC may have fallen seriously short of the standards set out in the BBC Producers' Guidelines.

In this quarter the unit dealt with a total of 363 complaints concerning 240 items. About 77 complaints were upheld (16 of them partly). This represents 21 per cent of the total number of complaints received.

One complaint on the accuracy front related to a news bulletin on television. While introducing a piece on the bombing of an Italian base in Iraq on BBC News, the newsreader had said the attack had been carried out by those still loyal to Saddam Hussein. A viewer complained that there was no basis for this statement. The PCU found that the affiliations of those responsible were at the time not known. In fact, the same report pointed this out, later on.

As far as bias was concerned, on a show that aired on BBC Radio 1 a couple of months ago, a complaint was upheld that the host Sara Cox showed bias towards Senator Kerry's bid to become the next US president. The complainant said that she was supposed to merely report on a view, which had been expressed by Chris Martin of Coldplay at the Grammy Awards. Instead she ended up endorsing the same. The management of Radio 1 went on to remind Cox of the importance of maintaining impartiality.

Meanwhile, in the poor taste criteria, BBC Three's Best of the Worst special was cited. A couple of viewers complained that a sequence in this programme of sporting bloopers included clips that went beyond the bounds of decency.

The committee agreed that some of the clips, which featured male genitalia, urination and defecation, went beyond acceptable boundaries. This was also on account of how the production techniques were used to enhance or focus attention on them.

Another show that was cited, which Indian viewers are familiar with was Top Gear, that airs on BBC Two. In the episode a viewer had complained that an exchange in which the host Jeremy Clarkson incited people to break the law by hiding a mobile phone while driving, was grossly irresponsible.

The committee found that the exchange arose from the fact that the change in the law on using hand-held mobile phones while driving was about to come into effect. Therefore at that time Clarkson's impression of a motorist cutting short a call because he had spotted a police car was no more than a humorous indication of how at least some drivers would be likely to respond to the legislation.

The result of the complaint was that the shows executive producer reminded the programmes production team of the sensitivity of the issue. Needless to say Clarkson and his team have agreed to be more careful in future.

The BBC One sitcom Only Fools and Horses came under fire by a viewer for being racist. The viewer objected to the use of the term Paki.

The PCU stated that the term was not used with any offensive intention. However, it noted that research shows that its perceived offensiveness had increased significantly over the years. In the absence of a particular contextual justification, the PCU determined that its use in programmes would no longer be acceptable.

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