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18th February
2010
  

The R Word...

US campaign against the word 'retard'

End the Word White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel apologized recently for using the word retarded during a private meeting last summer, telling advocates for the disabled that he will join their campaign to help end the use of the word.

In a statement, Special Olympics Chief Executive Tim Shriver and five other disability rights advocates said Emanuel had sincerely apologized for the earlier comment during a strategy meeting, which was reported in the Wall Street Journal: We are happy that he will join more than 54,000 other Americans in pledging to end the use of the R-word at www.r-word.org, and that he committed that the administration would continue to look for ways to partner with us, including examining pending legislation in Congress to remove the R-word from federal law, they said in the statement.

Controversy about Emanuel's use of the word erupted more broadly after former Alaska governor Sarah Palin called on President Obama to fire his chief of staff. In a statement on her Facebook page, she asked: Are you capable of decency, Rahm Emanuel?

 

19th February
2010
  

Update: Hard Apology...

US campaign against the word 'retard' comes to the UK

Vinne Jones The retard controversy swirling around public figures in the US has also been noted in the UK.

Channel 4 has 'enraged' disability charities and disabled people, with its initial refusal to apologize for the Channel 4 program Big Brother's Big Mouth , broadcast on 29.1.10, in which Vinnie Jones accused Davina McCall of walking like a retard, and gave the audience a demonstration of what a retard walks like. Davina McCall responded by saying: I do not walk like a retard.

Channel 4 originally said that participants should be able to talk without censure, but after an active Facebook campaign by disabled people and groups did apologize privately to two individuals. A spokesman admitted that the original defensive response was a mistake and there should have been an on-air apology.

It has now made its apology public, saying: We would normally respond to an inappropriate comment of that nature by asking the presenter to admonish the person responsible and apologize to the audience, but on this occasion, this did not happen. We have removed their comments from the Video on Demand version of the program.

A spokesman for Vinnie Jones said: On behalf of Vinnie Jones I'd like to apologisze for any offense caused by comments made on Big Brother's Big Mouth on January 29th 2010. While the show was live and the conversation was unscripted and off the cuff, Vinnie in no way meant to upset anyone and fully appreciates the choice of word was inappropriate.

The matter has gone to Ofcom which has ruled against the first complaint from Nicky Clark, who runs a campaign to boost disabled talent on-screen, saying that although the matter was sensitive the word was not aimed against people with a learning disability. How strange, then, that so many people with a learning disability feel it was! As Mark Goldring, the chief executive of the learning disability, Mencap, comments, it's both offensive and insulting.

 

12th March
2010
  

Update: Big Mouth...

TV censor clears Vinnie Jones over the use of the word 'retard'

Vinne Jones Ofcom said that its TV programme code guarantees freedom of expression to broadcasters as well as the audience's right to view programmes without interference from the authorities.

It made the defence as it rejected a request, made by the mother of two disabled children, to discipline Channel 4 after Vinnie Jones said the word retard on a Big Brother off-shoot programme.

The regulator claimed it was editorially justified because the insult was directed at someone who is not disabled, and because viewers of the reality show expect a certain level of outspoken banter .

Lloyd Page, a spokesman for Mencap, the learning disability charity, said: As someone with a learning disability, I was disgusted and hurt to hear the word 'retard' used on Big Brother. We will never change people's attitudes if this sort of thing carries on. I hope Ofcom will realise why we want this to stop.

Nicky Clark, who made the complaint, added: Channel 4 has a commitment to ensure that diversity is fully and positively represented on its channel. If we are to have our faith restored in Channel 4's suitability to broadcast the Paralympics, it needs to show that it regrets this incident by apologising on air.

She had complained to Ofcom about an exchange shown on Channel 4's digital channel, E4, during an episode of Big Brother's Big Mouth in January this year.

Vinnie Jones was asked how he had known that Davina McCall, the presenter, had entered the Celebrity Big Brother house in a chicken costume rather than a fellow contestant. He replied that it was because she was walking like a retard , at which McCall laughed.

Ofcom rejected the complaint that the term was offensive, claiming that the context showed that it was not directed at anyone with any disabilities, and had been used light-heartedly.

 

25th May
2010
  

Update: Slow Witted...

Oops Channel 4 were slow to notice that the word 'retard' has been hyped into a major no-no.

Vinne Jones(Celebrity) Big Brothers Big Mouth E4, 29 January 2010, 23:05

Big Brothers Big Mouth (BBBM) is the sister programme to Channel 4s main Big Brother series . It is transmitted live and is broadcast post-watershed and looks at events in the Big Brother House with a studio audience and celebrity guests. It provides a platform for fans to voice their views, put questions to the evicted housemates and discuss the latest events in the house. Viewers are able to contribute to the programme by phone, e-mail, textpolls, or by leaving a message on the 24-hour Mouthpiece rant line.

This episode was broadcast the same night as the CBB series finale and followed the Channel 4 coverage of the event. The programme was presented by Davina McCall. It was preceded with a warning which stated: First on Four, with strong language, adult humour and flashing images, the Big Mouth on a big event, Celebrity Big Brother.

One of the guests on the programme was Vinnie Jones, who came third in the competition and had been evicted from the CBB house that night. During the programme a member of the studio audience asked Jones how he had known instantly that the person who came into the house disguised in a chicken outfit was Ms McCall and not fellow housemate Nicola Tappenden. In response to the question, Jones said: she was walking like a retard, she was walking like this [he then demonstrated walking with difficulty] and our Nicky walks lovely.

Ms McCall then responded by saying: I do not walk like a retard.

Ofcom received eight complaints about the programme. In summary, all of the complainants were offended by the use of the term walking like a retard by  Jones, and the demonstration he gave after saying the comment. Seven of the complainants were also offended by the response from the presenter, Ms McCall, who had repeated the phrase. Four of the complainants also raised concerns that Ms McCall had appeared to enjoy the joke and did not reprimand Jones for the comment.

In line with Ofcoms procedures, the complaints were initially considered by the Executive without representations being requested from Channel 4. On 18 February 2010, Ofcom wrote to Channel 4 informing them that eight complaints had been received but not upheld. Ofcom stated that it was mindful of the overall context of the programme and decided on balance that there was not sufficient evidence to conclude that the word was necessarily intended to be offensive to anyone with learning difficulties.

Two of the complainants requested a review of this decision. Ofcom considered Rule 2.3 of the Code (which requires material that may cause offensive must be justified by the context).

Ofcom Decision : Resolved

The Committee first examined the language used in this case in order to assess the potential it had for causing offence. In doing so the Committee recognised that the use of discriminatory language of this nature can be profoundly offensive to some viewers as it singles out a minority in society. Ofcoms own research (-3-) into offensive language identified that the word retard is quite polarising. Those people who consider it offensive do so because it is a derogatory term that refers to a disability.

In the Committees opinion, the comments made by both Jones and Ms McCall in this programme were clearly capable of causing offence. In reaching this view, the Committee noted that the use of the word retard by Jones, although arguably intended as a joke and not aimed at an individual with learning difficulties, could be seen as being a comment on people in society with a particular disability. This was reinforced by Jones demonstrating walking with difficulty when imitating the way in which Ms McCall had walked. Jones then unfavourably compared the walk with that of fellow housemate Nicola Tappenden, which he described as lovely. It was the Committees view that his use of the word retard was capable of being understood not as merely a passing reference directed towards Ms McCall, but also as ridiculing those with a physical or learning difficulty, emphasised by his attempt at imitation.

The Committee was particularly concerned that not only was Jones comment not corrected but that it was repeated by the presenter, Ms McCall, without any apparent recognition of its potential to cause offence. The Committee, while acknowledging this was a live show, considered that in this instance the action of Ms McCall had the potential to heighten the offence to viewers.

The Committee was also concerned that the programme makers took no action during the programme to seek to mitigate the offence that would have been caused by the comments. The Committee noted Channel 4s admission that it would normally respond to a comment of that nature by asking the presenter to admonish the person responsible and if appropriate, apologise to the audience. It said that, due to human error, it had failed to do so on this occasion.

In the Committees opinion that failure suggested a lack of understanding during the live broadcast of how offensive the comments had been.

However, the Committee concluded that, on balance and in the circumstances of this particular case, there was insufficient context to justify the offence that was likely to be caused by the comments made during the programme. Therefore the broadcast breached generally accepted standards.

The Committee then went on to consider whether Channel 4 had taken immediate and appropriate steps to remedy this breach of generally accepted standards. The Committee noted the action taken by the broadcaster in response to the complaints made about the programme. In particular Channel 4 had voluntarily removed the comments from the Video on Demand (4OD) version of the programme after an internal review (albeit this was in response to a complaint several days after broadcast by an individual who is also a complainant in this case), and had apologised in writing to the complainant. The Committee also noted the measures taken by Channel 4 to ensure this does not happen again. The Committee considered these measures appropriate to remedy the breach of generally accepted standards and therefore considered the case resolved.

 

24th August
2010
  

Update: R Words...

Jennifer Anniston movie bombs over R word gaff or was it the Rubbish Reviews?

Switch DVD Jennifer Aniston Earlier this week Jennifer Aniston came under fire for comments during an appearance on Regis and Kelly. While a guest on the morning show, Aniston made the comment comparing herself to a retard, saying, Yeah, I got to play dress up . I do it for a living, like a retard.

The fallout from the incident was immediate with disability groups calling her choice of words inappropriate and offensive.

In a statement released to TV Guide, a representative for the Special Olympics commented, The Special Olympics is always disappointed when the R-word is used, especially by someone who is influential to society. The pervasive use of the R-word, even in an off the cuff self-deprecating manner, dehumanizes people with intellectual disabilities and perpetuates painful stereotypes that are a great source of suffering and negative stigma.

The bad press did nothing to help Aniston's new film, The Switch which she was on the show to promote in the first place.

The Switch a romantic comedy starting Aniston and Jason Bateman bombed at the box office this weekend, grossing just $8.1 million. So did Aniston's talk show gaffe tank the film? The low box office is definitely due in part to some tepid reviews and stiff weekend competition. However, one can't help but question whether her comment had an effect as well.

 

20th November
2010
  

Update: Clumsy...

Differing sensitivities to a Transformers toy named Spastic

transformers spastic The launch of a new Transformers character called Spastic has been scrapped after fans vented fury over the name.

The new robot toy was ditched after US maker Hasbro was left stunned by the outcry in Britain over the insulting term.

Bosses of the US toy firm - unaware of how offensive the word is regarded here - were shocked at the anger the name sparked when they proudly revealed the toy on its website.

But the company insisted the toy will go on sale with its original name in the US as planned in January.

Last night Hasbro said: We intended no offence by the use of the name Spastic. It will not be available via traditional retail channels in Europe, including the UK.

The word spastic , regarded as derogatory in Britain, is used to describe people suffering severe forms of cerebral palsy with reduced control of their muscle movements. It is used widely in the US as a casual term for clumsiness or an overexcited person.

In US slang the word spastic is often shortened to spaz - and has been used in TV show Friends and by golfer Tiger Woods, although they were only criticised for using it in Britain.

 

23rd October
2011
  

Updated: Silly Tweet...

A Ricky Gervais windup with jokes about 'mongs'

Invention Lying DVD Ricky Gervais Ricky Gervais has refused to apologise after disability groups and fellow comedians condemned him for repeatedly using the word 'mong' on Twitter and posting photos of himself pulling monged-up faces. In the past month Gervais's Twitter followers have leapt from 68,000 to more than 440,000 as the comedian became embroiled in an online row about the use of the term.

In a statement Gervais said that the term was completely different to mongol , a derogatory term for people with Down's syndrome. I have never used the word 'mongol'. I have used the word 'mong', he said. I have never used that word to mean Down's syndrome and never would. The modern use of the word 'mong' means 'dopey' or 'ignorant'. It's even in modern slang and urban dictionaries.

See one of many definitions from urbandictionary.com :

Mong is short for mongoloid , which was originally an anachronistic term for a Down's Syndrome sufferer. The modern Mong however is a total fuckwit, who deserves nothing less than complete humiliation for their idiocy.

The controversy began after Gervais returned to Twitter on 29 September. He made a string of tweets involving variations on the word mong . Phrases included What a fucking useless Mong I really am , two mongs don't make a right and good monging .

Gervais had already responded to criticism earlier this month, tweeting: Just to clarify for uptight people stuck in the past. The word Mong means Downs syndrome about as much as the word Gay means happy.

The tirade has now come to the attention of the press. Frank Buckley, of Down Syndrome Education International, told the Sun: Most would consider it as offensive as comparable terms of abuse referring to racial background or sexual orientation. A Mencap spokesman, Mark Gale, said that the comedian's behaviour was very disappointing , adding that such language can perpetuate discriminatory attitudes .

Gervais remains unrepentant, bullishly posting another gurning self-portrait of himself on Twitter with the caption: The police just came round and confiscated all my awards. Gutted.

Update: Sorry, I was being a bit of a mong

23rd October 2011.  See  article from  dailymail.co.uk

Ricky Gervais apologised over his use of the term mong , after being criticised by the tearful mother of two disabled daughters.

The comedian claimed he had been naive to use the word without realising that it was still used to insult the disabled.

He was seemingly affected by Nicola Clark, a disability campaigner and mother of two disabled girls, who had broken down in tears while talking about the row on Jeremy Vine's BBC Radio 2 show.

Gervais then contacted Mrs Clark on Twitter to offer a very public thank you for her kind, rational and understanding words in private since the issue broke.

 

18th January
2012
  

Update: Democracy Fails in Hull...

Councillor suspended for 20 weeks for trivial insult in tweet

hull city council logoA Tory Councillor has been suspended from his job for 20 weeks and will be forced to undertake diversity training, after he called members of the publicretards .

Hull City Council received two complaints after Councillor John Fareham used Twitter to insult people who had protested against public spending cuts. He tweeted:

15 hours in Council today very hard hitting day and the usual collection of retards in the public gallery spoiling it for real people.

The council's PC standards committee claimed that his actions breached its code of conduct. Chair of the sub-committee Sheelagh Strawbridge said:

The committee concluded that Councillor Fareham may have caused the authority to breach equality enactments and had brought his office and the Council into disrepute.

 

26th January
2012
  

Update: Dangerous Words...

The word 'Retard' slips out during a live discussion on ITV's This Morning

This MorningThis Morning
ITV1, 7 October 2011, 10:45

This Morning is ITV1's weekday morning topical magazine programme which is hosted on a Friday by presenters Eamonn Holmes and Ruth Langsford.

This programme featured an item at 10:45 about a survey which reported that one third of Britons do not know the location of the three largest cities in the UK. Studio guest Jonathan Wilkes said he believed that he was in that third because he thought Manchester was one of the three. Eamonn Holmes responded incredulously:

what are you ... retarded? Don't be stupid, don't be stupid ... if you follow football, which you do, you know from the league tables ... where everywhere is.

Several viewers contacted the broadcaster directly to complain about Eamonn Holmes using the word retarded and, following the commercial break, he made the following on screen apology at 11:10:

Very good to see you again. Sorry to the three or four of you who have got in touch this morning because I have used the word retarded during the newspaper review – and you seem to take it personally...or you seem to say that I am insulting all sorts of people who have all sorts of conditions. I used it as a term...that someone...so, I don't know what you would use instead of the word – but obviously I would never want to do that – cause any sort of offence for that and having done so much work – particularly, there is this the man who has an autistic child, who says that somehow I have insulted his child, so I really hope it hasn't. I certainly wouldn't use it in that context but sorry if that caused you offence sir. I'll get your name and address in a moment and reply to you.

A complainant alerted Ofcom to the use of the word retarded . Ofcom considered the word was capable of causing offence and raised potential issues under Rule 2.3 of the Code, which states:

In applying generally accepted standards broadcasters must ensure that material which may cause offence is justified by the context.

ITV accepted that the word retarded did have the potential to cause offence. However, in the context of a spontaneous reaction made during a live discussion programme, the Licensee did not consider it exceeded generally accepted standards. Insofar as any offence was caused, ITV said it tookrapid and effective steps to mitigate that offence by broadcasting a prompt apology. ITV considered the apology was appropriately worded to convey Eamonn Holmes', and the Licensee's, sincere regret for any offence caused.

Ofcom Decision: Resolved

Ofcom took account of the fact that This Morning is a live programme, and the comment made by Eamonn Holmes was clearly unscripted and made in response to a spontaneous situation. However, on balance and in the circumstances of this particular case, Ofcom considered that this was insufficient context to justify the offence that the wordretarded was capable of causing to the audience.

Ofcom, however, took account of Eamonn Holmes' broadcast of a personal apology as soon as practicable after the subsequent commercial break, in which he stated that he had not intended to cause any offence. On balance, Ofcom considered this case to be resolved.

 

27th January
2012
  

Update: Dangerous Words...

The word 'mong' as explained by Ricky Gervais

Ricky Gervais Live IV Science Ricky Gervais: Science
Channel 4, 14 October 2011, 22:35

Ricky Gervais: Science was a programme featuring a stand-up show by the comedian Ricky Gervais. This post-watershed programme focussed on Ricky Gervais's outspoken thoughts on a variety of topics including racism, fame, obesity, religion and language.

At one point during his routine, Ricky Gervais referred to the singer Susan Boyle, and he made the following remark:

Look at Susan Boyle. If you can. Fucking hell! Jesus Christ. Oh. Shocking. Be fair though, „cause usually in the music industry it's all about image isn't it, you can't just have a great voice and a great talent... but I don't think she'd be where she was today if it wasn't for the fact that she looked like such a fucking mong.

The comedian then proceeded to debate with an imaginary complainant who might object to his use of the word mong on television:

mong? . Yeah he did. Yeah. You can't say „mong? . You can. It's fucking easy. It's one of the easiest words to say, it's like [mouths the word while he says it] „mong?, it's like, you just need lips, „mo...?, even mongs can say it, that's part of the beauty of the word.

He continued in the same vein.

Ofcom received three complaints about Ricky Gervais's comments. They concerned his repeated use of the word mong , which complainants regarded as offensive because of its derogatory association with Down's Syndrome.

Ofcom considered Rule 2.3 of the Code, which states:

In applying generally accepted standards broadcasters must ensure that material which may cause offence is justified by the context... Appropriate information should also be broadcast where it would assist in avoiding or minimising offence.

Ofcom Decision: Not in Breach of Rule 2.3

We noted that Ricky Gervais's example about how the meaning of words changes by saying:

When I came here tonight I called you all „cunts?, remember? That used to be an insult, but now it's a term of endearment. So words change. Okay.

In Ofcom's view, while this clearly drew the focus of the routine on to the subject of how words change, thereby potentially minimising the offence, it was nevertheless clearly also done in a tongue-in-cheek way. This may have caused some viewers to question his assertion that he had not used either the wordscunt or mong in an intentionally offensive way.

However we considered that the degree of offensiveness was reduced to some extent by many in the audience knowing Ricky Gervais' reputation for acerbic, controversial and challenging humour, and understanding that Ricky Gervais was likely to have been being knowingly disingenuous when he said the wordmong was no longer linked with Down's Syndrome, and that the word cunt was now a term of endearment . Ofcom considered that the material would not have exceeded viewers' expectations for Ricky Gervais's type of humour.

Ofcom also had regard to the fact that Channel 4 is a public service broadcaster with a unique statutory remit to broadcast a range of high quality and diverse programming, and this may include programming that is provocative and controversial.

We noted that the programme began at 22:35, more than an hour and a half after the watershed, and that therefore most viewers of the programme would have been expecting stronger and more challenging content.

We also took into account that Channel 4 brought the challenging nature of the content to the attention of viewers with a warning at the start of the programme, which stated that it would contain strong language and adult humour .

We therefore concluded that several aspects of this content had the potential to cause considerable offence. However, on balance, this potential offence was justified by the context of this provocative comedy routine challenging the evolution of words, as broadcast with a warning as part of a late night comedy show on Channel 4. Channel 4 therefore applied generally accepted standards, and the broadcast of Ricky Gervais' comments was not in breach of Rule 2.3.

Ofcom takes this opportunity to remind all broadcasters that its recent 2010 research shows that the word mong has the potential to be highly offensive to many people, and so broadcasters should take great care with its use.

 

18th June
2013

 Update: Ignorance of PC Law is No Excuse...

Ofcom police charge Lynda La Plante with that most heinous of PC crimes, using the word 'retard'

Today programmeToday
BBC Radio 4, 22 March 2013, 08:30

Today is BBC Radio 4's flagship morning national news and current affairs programme, and it includes various guest interviews.

The edition on 22 March featured a live interview with crime author Lynda La Plante to discuss her induction into the Forensic Science Society.

Four listeners alerted Ofcom to the use of the word retard during the interview. Lynda La Plante said:

Not questioning, I get a tremendous amount of fans. I mean, I have a lot of questions that I'd like to ask myself, but the misquoting of me is a consistent and really irritating fact. Today there's a headline that apparently I call people at the BBC 'retards', and it's absolutely...

...

Gasps? They were roaring with laughter, because I said, somebody in the front, it was a Q&A, somebody said, 'How do and where do I send a script to?', and I said 'You do not send a script, full script, anywhere, you learn how to do a treatment, because you don't know if there's a retard at the end of that envelope reading it'. Suddenly I've called everybody at the BBC a 'retard'...

Ofcom considered this material raised issues warranting investigation under Rule 2.3:

In applying generally accepted standards broadcasters must ensure that material which may cause offence is justified by the context.

Ofcom decision: Breach of Rule 2.3

The use of discriminatory language can be profoundly offensive to some viewers. Ofcom's own 2010 research1 into offensive language has identified the word retard as polarising. The words retard and retarded provoked mixed responses but many people were offended by these words as they singled out people in society and are extremely harmful and upsetting . Those people who consider it offensive do so because it is a derogatory term that refers to disability.

We noted that it was Ms La Plante who first used the word in the programme in the context of complaining about how she was misquoted. We also took into account the BBC's comment that the presenter had assumed Ms La Plante brought up the subject to refute reports of her having used this offensive term, and thought it was a legitimate journalistic exercise to question Ms La Plante about it.

When Ms La Plante used the word a second time however it was to confirm she had in fact used it to make a derogatory remark about some script editors and their approach to reading a full script. Ms La Plante did not appear to recognise the potential for offence caused by this use of language, and did not apologise. Nor did the presenter explicitly challenge the guest's second use of retard , choosing instead immediately to change the subject moving on from that use of language, do you feel that the BBC is not listening to you and not wanting to use your work... ).

Ofcom considered the broadcast of the word on the second and third occasions had the potential to cause considerable and gratuitous offence, and was not justified by the context. While there was an implicit criticism of these uses of the word by the guest through the presenter abruptly changing the subject as she did, in Ofcom's view it would have been preferable if the presenter had addressed the issue with a more explicit statement, to clarify the potential for this use of language to offend, and apologise for any offence caused to listeners.

This material therefore breached Rule 2.3.