Ofcom has ruled that Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson was not in breach of the broadcasting code for a quip he made on the show alluding to lorry drivers murdering prostitutes.
Clarkson, 48, was "taking part in a lorry-driving task" during the 2 November pre-watershed show when he said: "Change gear, change gear, check mirror, murder a prostitute, change gear, change gear, murder. That's a lot of effort in a day."
The gag prompted 339 outraged viewers to complain to the watchdog, and Ipswich Labour MP Chris Mole quickly weighed into the controversy by demanding Clarkson be sacked.
However, having considered the matter under the code's Rule 2.3 (material that may cause offence must be justified by the context), Ofcom has concluded that "given the intent of the comment, the context of the programme and the time of broadcast ... the broadcast of this material was justified by the context".
The adjudication elaborates: "On this occasion, Ofcom accepts that the comments made by Jeremy Clarkson could shock some viewers. However, Ofcom did not believe the intention of the comments could be seen to imply that all lorry drivers murder prostitutes, nor would it be reasonable to make such an inference. In Ofcom’s view, the presenter was clearly using exaggeration to make a joke, albeit not to everyone’s taste. The comments should therefore been seen in that context.
"It is often the case that humour can cause offence. To restrict humour only to material which does not cause offence would be an unnecessary restriction of freedom of expression. However, in transmitting potentially offensive material, broadcasters must ensure that they apply generally accepted standards.
"Ofcom considered that the large majority of the audience would have understood the comments as being made for comic effect, and were in keeping with what would normally be expected from this presenter in this particular programme."
The BBC earlier responded to the complaints by issuing a statement which read: "This particular reference was used to comically exaggerate, and make ridiculous, an unfair urban myth about the world of lorry driving, and was not intended to cause offence." ®