By Chris Hoenig
Britain’s Office of Communications (Ofcom) has ruled that the BBC violated broadcasting rules when it aired a segment during the popular show Top Gear that included an ethnic slur.
“After a thorough investigation, Ofcom has found the BBC breached broadcasting rules by including an offensive racial term in Top Gear, which was not justified by context,” an Ofcam spokesperson said. “This was scripted in advance. The BBC failed to take the opportunity, either during filming or post-production, to check whether the word had the potential to offend viewers.”
The episode, a special about Burma which aired in April, included a pretaped segment featuring host Jeremy Clarkson standing at the end of a bridge over the River Kwai as a local man walked across it.
“That is a proud moment,” Clarkson said, “but there’s a slope on it.”
“Slope” is recognized as an anti-Asian slur, especially in Australia (used mostly in reference to people of Vietnamese descent) and the United States (where it’s most commonly used against those of Chinese descent).
“When we used the word ‘slope’ in the recent Top Gear Burma special it was a lighthearted word-play joke referencing both the build quality of the bridge and the local Asian man who was crossing it,” Executive Producer Andy Wilman said in a statement after receiving complaints. “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 and although it might not be widely recognized 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 offense caused.”
The BBC and its partners have a hand in producing Top Gear spinoffs in both the United States and Australia.
Ofcom officials ruled that the network had plenty of time to research the slur before airing the episode. It’s not known what, if any, penalty the BBC will face.
Network officials acknowledged to Ofcom that they were aware of some of the background of the slur, but that they believed “such use was mere slang.”
“We dealt with this matter some time ago, the program apologized at the time and explained the context, and we are now focusing on delivering another series of one of Britain’s best loved shows,” BBC officials said after the ruling.
This is not the show’s first controversy. In 2011, the hosts joked that Mexicans were “feckless [and] flatulent,” and Clarkson was put on notice in May after mumbling an offensive version of a popular nursery rhyme during a segment. That clip did not make it to air.