Broadcasting watchdog Ofcom has launched an investigation into whether a recent episode of Top Gear, in which presenter Jeremy Clarkson made a joke about Asian people, broke its broadcasting code.
Prompted by complaints about the programme, Ofcom is expected to consider whether Clarkson’s use of the word ”slope” to refer to an Asian man breached its rules against discrimination on racial grounds.
A spokesperson for Ofcom told RadioTimes.com “This is an ongoing investigation into a March episode of Top Gear in which a presenter allegedly used a racial slur. We received two complaints about it and, on the basis of an assessment we conducted, have decided to investigate it under the Harm and Offence section of the Broadcast Code.”
The episode in question was the Top Gear Burma Special in which Clarkson and his fellow hosts built a bridge over the river Kwai on the border between Thailand and Myanmar (also known as Burma). In a scene in which an Asian man is seen crossing the bridge, Clarkson says "That is a proud moment. But there's a slope on it,” before co-presenter Richard Hammond replies "You're right. It's definitely higher on that side."
Top Gear producer Andy Wilman apologised for the comment, calling the remark "a light-hearted wordplay joke referencing both the build quality of the bridge and the local Asian man who was crossing it" and claimed that the programme-makers had been unaware that the term “slope” could be considered offensive.
"We were not aware at the time, and it has subsequently been brought to our attention, that the word 'slope' is considered by some to be offensive," said Wilman in a statement. "And although it might not be widely recognised in the UK, we appreciate that it can be considered offensive to some here and overseas, for example in Australia and the USA.
"If we had known that at the time we would not have broadcast the word in this context and regret any offence caused."
The statement followed a formal complaint made by the law firm Equal Justice calling for action to be taken. The letter, sent on behalf of complainant and actor Somi Guha, said that the show "must be censured to ensure that another race or nation is not targeted", and that the BBC should give "due consideration to not re-commissioning Top Gear until these matters are addressed".
Lawrence Davies, a lawyer for the firm, said: "We are looking for Mr Clarkson and those responsible to be disciplined proportionately. Clarkson is one of their biggest stars and the question is where does the BBC draw the line on making money and how it goes about it."
This new development in the controversy follows Clarkson’s apology last week after film surfaced in which he appears to use the n-word while shooting another episode of Top Gear two years ago. In the unused footage, Clarkson is heard reciting the rhyme "Eeny, meeny, miny, moe" in which he appears to use the offensive term.
Speaking in a video message, Clarkson explained that immediately after reviewing the rushes for the item he had sent a note to the Top Gear production office asking them not to use the offending take.
"It is a word I loathe, and I did everything in my power to make sure that that version did not appear in the programme that was transmitted," he said.
He concluded the message by asking viewers for their forgiveness: "Please be assured that I did everything in my power to not use that word. And I’m sitting here begging your forgiveness for the fact that, obviously, my efforts weren’t quite good enough. Thank you."