Complaints over battery acid joke finally discharged | Ofcom won't take any action against Jo Brand

Complaints over battery acid joke finally discharged

Ofcom won't take any action against Jo Brand

Broadcasting regulator Ofcom as drawn a line under the controversy over Jo Brand’s battery acid joke, finally ruling that it will take no further action.

After the comedian made her well-publicised joke about milkshakes being thrown over right-wing politicians during an episode of Radio 4’s Heresy in June last year, the BBC received 20 complaints.

While the corporation did not agree with their charge that the gag was ‘likely to incite violence’, they said Brand had gone too far and edited the line out of the version available online.

Some listeners were unhappy with the Corporation’s handling of the issue, and escalated their complaint to Ofcom – but today the watchdog has ruled that the ‘potential offence was justified by the editorial context’ and will be not pursuing the matter any further.

On the show, Brand said: ‘Certain unpleasant characters are being thrown to the fore and they’re very, very easy to hate and I’m kind of thinking why bother with a milkshake when you could get some battery acid – that’s just me and it’s all right. I’m not gonna do it, it’s purely a fantasy but I think milkshakes are pathetic. I honestly do – sorry.’

The BBC initially said: ‘It was never intended to encourage or condone violence, and it does not do so, but we have noted the strong reaction to it. Comedy will always push boundaries and will continue to do so, but on this occasion we have decided to edit the programme. We regret any offence we have caused.’ 

The Corporation’s editorial complaints unit then investigated further and came to the same conclusion. 

It ruled: ‘In view of Ms Brand’s immediate disavowal and the context of the programme’s wider message in favour of more civility in political discourse, the ECU did not consider the joke likely to incite violence, but accepted that, against the background of a significant problem with acid attacks, it was capable of causing offence beyond what was editorially justified, and therefore should have been edited out before transmission.

Despite that, six listeners complained to Ofcom, which can investigate only once the BBC has considered complaints. They repeated the charge that Brand had been highly offensive and, in their view, likely to incite serious crime.

And in their findings, published today, the regulator said: ‘Issues of offence and generally accepted standards involve finely balanced judgments. 

‘Taking into account that Heresy is a programme which challenges accepted societal views through provocative comedy, and that listeners would have understood Ms Brand’s comments were not intended to be taken seriously, we considered that the potential offence was justified by the editorial context.’

Published: 27 Jan 2020

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