Wiser counsels prevail 

8 December 2008 tbs.pm/990

BBC News: Clarkson joke cleared by watchdog

Joking about truck… sorry, lorry drivers killing prostitutes was bound to offend some people. The murder by Steve Wright, a lorry driver, of five prostitutes in Ipswich touched a raw nerve, and was given prominent coverage on both BBC Look East and Anglia News.

It was also a matter about which people closely connected with the case, as either prostitutes themselves, or relatives of the victims, or possibly police officers or social workers or just ordinary members of the public who felt touched by what had happened, might be forgiven for taking a dim view of Mr Clarkson’s joke.

However, Ofcom correctly ruled that the right of freedom of expression includes the right to cause offence, and that in the circumstances, Mr Clarkson’s remark was no cause for sanction.

On the six o’clock news this evening, they were saying that ever since the Brand/Ross fiasco, people have been ringing up this or that department within the BBC to double-check if such-and-such a joke goes too far. People seem to be no longer sure where the line is.

If the right of freedom of expression includes the right to cause offence, where does that leave those who generally support freedom of expression but who were appalled by the Ross/Brand fiasco? This is a tricky one, and one that I shall not even attempt to answer in a hastily dashed off comment on EMC MediaBlog.

Incidentally, had those prostitutes been able to get heroin legally from a state-authorized outlet (for example, from the local pharmacy, on prescription), they, along with many other drug addicts, would probably be alive today.