I've called a tennis player a golliwog - get me out of here!

A couple of months ago, in characteristically muted coverage, the Mail quietly raised concerns about a personality exposing himself live on air. Being a paper that always sticks to its principles, the paper was unconcerned with the fact that the flashing had only happened on the radio, no member of the public saw and nobody at the station complained.

This concern followed an incident that involved a radio programme that had been broadcast in which two presenters made a tasteless, ill-advised prank phonecall to an elderly man about his granddaughter. The paper wasn't concerned with the fact that only two of the people who actually heard the show when it was broadcast saw fit to complain - and about bad language rather than the prank itself. In fact, so concerned was the paper that it printed transcripts of parts of the phone call that were never broadcast, and therefore not heard by anyone other than the people involved and some staff until the paper published them. The paper even attacked the BBC for not releasing these details, taking advantage of the proximity of Armistice Day to use words normally reserved for describing the need to always remember the sacrifice of servicemen in past wars to describe the incident.

A couple of weeks ago, the principled paper took an uncharacteristic stand that may have broken from the views of its readers and devoted a front page to criticising Prince Harry for using racist language to refer to an army colleague. The remark was made in a private home video that was never intended to be broadcast. Without coverage in the news media, nobody would ever have known about the incident.

But - isn't calling someone 'racist' PC Gone Mad?

Just two days later, the paper further criticised other members of the Royal Family on the front page. This time, Prince Harry's father and brother - as well as Harry himself - were lambasted for using a racist nickname for a friend. Of course, since the paper sticks to its principles, it didn't matter that the nickname was used in private exchanges or that the person involved in this case wasn't troubled by being called 'Sooty', a word that can describe being covered in soot at the same time as being the name of a popular children's television soft toy puppet.

In the last couple of days, it has emerged that Carol Thatcher used racially offensive language to refer to a tennis player in a private conversation with colleagues in the green room after filming an edition of The One Show. She used the word 'golliwog', which, coincidentally, can also be considered racially offensive as well as describing what used to be a sort of soft toy. (And, it seems that following further uncertainty about whether the tennis player was black or white, it turns out he's mixed race).

Perhaps it was a teensy bit racist after all

But the Mail is principled. So obviously it didn't matter that the remarks were made off-air and never intended for broadcast, or that the person being described would never have been concerned by the description since he wasn't present. The paper still rightly hauled Thatcher over the coals, in keeping with the principles it had set up with the previous four incidents (one of which occupied the paper's front pages for days).

Oh, just a minute. It seems the paper didn't do that at all. What was I thinking?

Apparently, the BBC are now 'thought police' for revealing comments that were never intended for broadcast (we're not told who leaked the comments). Public sector informers are creating 'stasi Britain'. The paper gives time to Thatcher to air her claim that the BBC are involved in a vendetta against her, and airs Norman Tebbit's view that the BBC was taking revenge on Thatcher because of her mother. Which is curious, since the BBC employed her in the first place. The BBC must have been so prescient that it gave her the job and paid her money in the knowledge that she would say something racist at some point, and was waiting to pounce. Of course, in real life the BBC had little choice but to discipline Thatcher, since apparently, someone who was actually there complained to bosses about the comment. As an employer, the BBC has to take it seriously when a member of staff makes a racist remark in front of colleagues.

It would be tempting to think that the paper's more sympathetic coverage is because of who Thatcher's mother is, the same reason Tebbit ludicrously wants us to believe she is being disciplined in the first place.

Yes. Employing her daughter was definitely revenge on Maggie. And the paper means to make no subliminal suggestions about the character of these two people by the choice of picture

Still, that the Mail is in love with Carol Thatcher's mother probably doesn't have much to do with anything. This is simply a convenient stick to bash the BBC with, even though doing so completely contradicts what the paper has done before. It has that in common with the incident where Chris Moyles made a joke about Eastern Europeans being prostitutes, which was beyond the pale for the Mail, despite the fact that the paper had made similar jokes itself. As well as producing serious stories that were so offensive to Polish people that the Federation of Poles in Great Britain was moved to make a complaint.

Of course, the coverage of the circumstances of her disciplining has also been ridiculously twisted when compared to that of Jonathan Ross. Ross was suspended for three months, which was described as getting paid for doing nothing, and the paper wails about him ever being allowed back. Thatcher has also been suspended, and only until she makes a full and proper apology, but Thatcher has been 'axed'.

This vendetta - that's the Mail's vendetta against the BBC rather than the BBC's imaginary one against Thatcher - ought to be laughable. Like the snitchy, pathetic kid at school who keeps grassing about every little thing that the more popular kids do even though he does them himself, the paper should be derided, laughed at and - more importantly - shouted and struck back at until it shuts up. But of course the BBC has its hands tied behind its back and has to beseechingly apologise and cave in at every turn. It's as if the snitchy kid is the headmaster's son and can sneer in complete safety rather than be pushed to the asphalt like he deserves.

**UPDATE** The paper's coverage of Tebbit's accusation, 'Was Carol Thatcher's sacking the BBC's revenge on Maggie?' has been clumsily transformed and given the headline 'BBC: We tried for five days to make Carol say sorry for golliwog remark', but at the time of writing it's a poorly formatted affair that starts halfway through the story and spreads across the page.

Quick! Change the story!

Could be that the paper is attempting a reverse ferret after finding out that Thatcher wasn't referring to a white guy, but who knows?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent post. The tabloid press smell blood and they're going for the BBC in any way they can.

It's genuinely worrying for the BBC's future I'd say.