Ofcom has ruled that Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson did not break the media regulator’s Broadcasting Code while appearing on The One Show last November.
Clarkson prompted more than 30,000 complaints to the BBC when he said, during an interview on BBC1’s flagship teatime magazine programme, that he would have striking public sector workers “shot”.
“I would take them outside and execute them in front of their families,” Clarkson went on, in a tirade that was described as “absolutely disgraceful and disgusting” by Ed Miliband and “silly” by Clarkson’s friend, David Cameron.
“I mean, how dare they go on strike when they’ve got these gilt-edged pensions that are going to be guaranteed while the rest of us have to work for a living?”
Clarkson escaped censure in part because of the way in which the comments were prompted by the show’s presenters, and in part because of his reputation as someone likely to cause offence. The BBC’s swift apology was also a factor in Ofcom’s decision.
In a letter to the trade union Unison, Ofcom’s Christopher Woolard said The One Show “clearly alluded, with light-hearted irony, to Mr Clarkson’s provocative and outspoken nature” in a way that “would have prepared viewers for the type of comments Jeremy Clarkson would be likely to make”.
During the original broadcast, presenters Matt Baker and Alex Jones had sarcastically billed Clarkson as “someone calm and level-headed… a guest with balanced, uncontroversial opinions, who makes great effort not to offend”.
The Ofcom letter added: “Viewers’ expectations would also have been influenced by Jeremy Clarkson’s well-established public persona. His often controversial (and, to some, offensive) views are widely publicised both in print and on television.”
The letter additionally observed that Clarkson’s joke was aimed “to a considerable extent” at the BBC and its perceived need for balance, and that Jones and the BBC itself had quickly apologised.
Unison had initially threatened legal action following the broadcast, but then said it had accepted the BBC’s apology.
At the height of the furore, Clarkson said: “I didn’t for a moment intend these remarks to be taken seriously – as I believe is clear if they’re seen in context. If the BBC and I have caused any offence, I’m quite happy to apologise for it alongside them.” He also claimed to have discussed making the remarks with One Show producers before the programme went ahead.