When it's OK to call Jacob Rees-Mogg an arsehole | No rebuke for Nish Kumar's Radio 4 comments © LadyGeek TV/Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

When it's OK to call Jacob Rees-Mogg an arsehole

No rebuke for Nish Kumar's Radio 4 comments

The BBC Trust says it can be acceptable to call MP Jacob Rees-Mogg an ‘areshole’ on Radio 4.

Their head of editorial standards has refused to follow up a complaint about the insult made by Nish Kumar during his appearance on The Now Show in December, saying it can be justified as valid satire.

A listener took umbrage at the stand-up’s monologue, which mocked a comment the Brexiteer Tory made, in which he quoted Roman philosopher Cicero before adding that ‘experts, soothsayers, astrologers are all in much the same category’

Kumar joked: ‘It does suggest that if Rees-Mogg requires any dental work he visits Russell Grant and that Mystic Meg does his taxes.’

Nish

And he added: ‘I’m surprised, Jacob Rees-Mogg of all people, is so hostile to fact based analysis, given that he’s an admirer of Cicero. I’ve found two quotes by Cicero that I think are very interesting. "The wise are instructed by reason, average minds by experience, the stupid by necessity and the brute by instinct." And "do not listen to Jacob Rees-Mogg that guy is a total arsehole". Very wise man Cicero, wise and specific.’

The listener complained that this amounted to ‘plain abuse… gratuitous, offensive and an expression of contempt’, adding that: ‘There are no circumstances under which it is acceptable for individuals or organisations to abuse other individuals in this way.

‘Comedians should explain why they disagree with a politician rather than being cowardly and vile by calling him an "arsehole" in his absence,’ the complainant added, suggesting that such behaviour ‘contributed to a poisonous environment where the vile personal abuse of a political opponent is not just acceptable, but something to be applauded and laughed at.’

When it initially dealt with the complaint, the BBC said the joke was editorially justified as satire.

And the executive editor of BBC Radio Comedy, Julia McKenzie, said: ‘This was not about calling random people "arsehole" indiscriminately. This was a satirical piece about Jacob Rees-Mogg

‘Kumar. picked up on Rees-Mogg rather pretentiously quoting the Roman philosopher and politician Cicero on Newsnight to support his argument [and] provided a genuine quote from Cicero in return, countering Rees Mogg’s argument and ended with a comic undercut in the form of the made-up quote from Cicero saying, "the guy is a total arsehole". 

‘This concluded a sophisticated argument by using anachronistic modern terminology, which also satirised Rees-Mogg for his pretension.  Rees-Mogg is fair game in this context as a public figure he often plays up to the image of being old-fashioned and more comfortable with classical allusions than modern ones. ‘

Unhappy with the response, the listener appealed to the BBC Trust, asking: ‘Do you think that we should live in a society where it is acceptable to shout ‘arsehole’ at each other as we go about our lawful business?’

However,  the BBC Trust’s head of editorial standards has now decided that such an appeal would have no reasonable chance of success, so would not be put before trustees.

The Trust also declined to take any further complaints against an episode of Have I Got News For You in which host Gary Lineker said: ‘Britain’s ambassador to the EU Sir Ivan Rogers has announced that a Brexit deal could take ten years. That’s not fair. Most of the people who voted for it will be dead by then.’ A number of viewers complained the joke was disrespectful to older people, promoted ageism, left older people feeling vulnerable and more likely to fear becoming victims of hate crime, adding that it ‘could also be perceived as an incitement to hatred of a minority group’.

A number of viewers complained the joke was disrespectful to older people, promoted ageism, left older people feeling vulnerable and more likely to fear becoming victims of hate crime, adding that it ‘could also be perceived as an incitement to hatred of a minority group’.

Published: 3 Apr 2017

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