NEW POLL: was the BBC right to ban Carol Thatcher from The One Show?

by Stephen Tall on February 5, 2009

I’ve avoided for as long as possible the uber-hyped ‘nowtrage’ over Carol Thatcher’s off-air-but-in-the-studio comment that a still-to-be-identified tennis player looks like a ‘golliwog’.

It does of course pose lots of interesting questions for liberals: the conflict between freedom of speech, and the offence that may cause; to what extent unbroadcast behind-the-scenes remarks should be regarded as private; whether remarks that cause offence are best dealt with by individuals at the time, rather than by being referred to an ombudsmanperson.

The Lib Dem blogosphere has wrestled with many of these issues and more, and given more time to the issue than I have the heart for, here:

>> Liberals should be supporting Carol Thatcher (‘Costigan Quist’ at Himmelgarten Cafe);
>> Carol Thatcher – an issue of free speech? (Paul Walter at Liberal Burblings); and
>> Carol Thatcher, praying nurses and the abolition of private life (Jonathan Calder at Liberal England).

What depresses me about the ensuing debate (with the honourable exceptions above) is quite how tired and predictable it has so quickly become, with battle-lines drawn generally along political lines.

Many on the right argue that Ms Thatcher’s banning once again displays the BBC’s deplorable, hypocritical, political-correctness-gone-mad standards (slipping thereof). Many on the left argue that anyone who sticks up for Carol Thatcher is, pretty much by extension, a racist. Both arguments strike me as rather pathetically extreme.

My view? The word ‘golliwog’ may be considered by some to be innocuous (and, yes, I too had a golliwog soft toy as a child) but its imagery and association is racially-charged. For generations, it was the image for millions of ‘what black people look like’, only one step away from that ultimate phrase of unconscious racism, ‘they all look the same to me’. As far as I know, there is no equivalent soft toy held to represent a single image of ‘what white people look like’. There’s a reason for that: we all look different, and we’re all individuals. That is why the label ‘golliwog’ became associated with racial stereotyping, and why the term itself is generally regarded as a racial insult.

So, Carol Thatcher was, in my view, wrong to use the word ‘golliwog’, however jokily/ironically/post-modernly. That she did so, unthinkingly, in front of people she didn’t know, on BBC premises, while being paid by the BBC, gives them the right to discipline her in a proportionate manner. This they did by offering her the opportunity to make a full apology, and when she declined to do so, exercising their rights as her employer to ban her from the show she was contributing to at the time of the incident.

It then became – for no good reason – a national furore, with the incident used by those with their own agendas to score political points off each other. All of which I find deeply tedious.

But let’s open this up to the LDV readership, and ask:

Do you think the BBC was justified in banning Carol Thatcher from The One Show for using the term ‘golliwog’?

Yes or No?

Over to you…