Radio station LBC has been formally reprimanded by Ofcom for allowing a caller in a phone-in to describe politician Diane Abbott as a “retard” twice on air.
The caller was not challenged directly despite using the word twice during the broadcast in June this year, said Ofcom, which found the station in breach of its code on offensive language.
The call was made on Ian Payne’s Saturday show on June 3rd in a discussion about whether both the Conservative and Labour parties were confused about tax.
Referring to errors made by Diane Abbott, the shadow home secretary, the caller said: “A lot of people, you know, if you ask me how much my rent is, or how much my mortgage is, or how much I pay for my water I may not have those figures at hand but I’m not going to sound like a retard and literally start slurring my speech…”.
The caller was not challenged on his use of the offensive word or later when he added: “I don’t hate her, I don’t like her, I honestly have no personal opinion about her but I have just listened to her and I just think ‘oh God not only does she not have the figures and that’s fine just say you don’t have them, but at the same time, why would you sound like a retard?’ I mean she actually sounds, and no disrespect to her on a personal level, but she really sounded thick. She sounded like someone who was completely incapable of putting a sentence together”.
LBC Radio said that “the presenter then challenged the caller’s comments, claiming “she [Abbott] just sounded like someone who’d done ten interviews this morning” and ‘we’ve got to give them [politicians] a bit of slack’”.
However, Ofcom ruled that Payne should have challenged the caller on the use of the word “retard” which it said breached its rules on offensive language.
The regulator’s statement said: “Mitigation to the offence could have been achieved to some degree by the presenter picking up on the use of the word and condemning this immediately.
“However, in this case the presenter did not appear to recognise the potential for offence caused by this language. The caller used the word on two separate occasions and the challenge made by the presenter related only to the criticism of Diane Abbott; there was no specific challenge relating to the offensive language.
“We were concerned that the failure to explicitly acknowledge the offensive nature of the word could have had the effect of normalising it. This was a particular concern given the time of broadcast as, although we accepted that the programme was not directed at children, some may have overhead it.”
Ben has worked as a professional journalist specialising in TV and the arts for nearly twenty years. After a two year stint on local newspapers in the mid 1990s, he spent more than 5 years as the broadcast reporter at the Stage newspaper. Following that he enjoyed staff reporting positions at the Sunday Mirror and the Sunday Times breaking stories and writing features before settling as a full time freelance writing for an array of newspapers and magazines - but mainly for the Guardian, Evening Standard, Broadcast, Independent and the New Statesman where he wrote a column.