The BBC has defended a joke by The News Quiz presenter Sandi Toksvig which, according to the Daily Mail, may have irreparably undermined the very bedrock of decency on which Middle England stands.
The quip in question was broadcast last October at 6.30pm, and once again the next day at 12.30pm. Discussing the Tories and child benefit cuts, Toksvig declared: "It’s the Tories who have put the 'n' into cuts."
Cue a complaint to the BBC and the BBC Trust from retired newspaper exec Colin Harrow, who insisted the obscenity-at-one-remove gag was "offensive and unacceptable".
Reponding for the BBC, Mayhew Archer wrote: “If my job was simply not to risk offending any listeners I could have cut it instantly. But that is not my job. My job here was to balance the offence it might cause some listeners against the delight it might give other listeners. For good or ill, the word does not seem to have quite the shock value it did.
"I am not saying this is a good thing. I am simply saying that I think attitudes shift.”
John Whittingdale, chairman of the Commons culture, media and sport select committee, is unimpressed with this justification. He said: “That word is way out in front in terms of people finding it offensive, and I think to broadcast it on radio at 6.30pm is inappropriate. Even though they did it by implication, nobody was left in any doubt about what was meant.
“Perhaps it hasn’t occurred to the BBC that one of the reasons why this word has lost its shock value is that it is now being used on television and radio. But I would expect them to be aware of the risk that children might be listening, especially at such an early hour.
"I hope that the gentleman who made the complaint takes this matter to Ofcom because I think they are the appropriate people to rule on this, not the BBC Trust.”
While Ofcom has said it will indeed look into the matter if it receives a formal complaint, Auntie further defended yesterday: "The BBC has rigorous guidelines. The News Quiz is a long-running panel show aimed at an adult audience. Listeners are used to a certain level of robust humour.” ®