Thursday 5 February 2009

The Thatcher Farce

Rather bizarrely the prestigious 8.10am slot on the Today programme this morning was given over to the Carol Thatcher story. I fail to see how this story has got legs.

From all that we know, it seems pretty clear that she used a racially derogatory and offensive word in a work setting in the hearing of a wide group of people. The BBC was therefore not only entitled but actually beholden to take action. Her lack of contrition only exacerbated the situation. Thatcher did something that would have been a matter of misconduct in any other work setting. Or at least should have been. Can you imagine a police officer or a social worker using that terminology about someone and still being in a job?

Those defending her claim that she used the term golliwog as a joke. How? Are they seriously saying that describing a black tennis player as a golliwog was anything other than demeaning? Then there is the Prince Harry defence – that she meant no offence. Well, what did she mean by it? Was it a term of praise, an affectionate reference, an endearing descriptive term? Of course not.

The other defence is that it was made in a private setting. The workplace is not private. It is a melting pot, a place where people from all different backgrounds come together and where we all behave differently to how we do at home. There are different standards and rules to which we all have to abide.

Working at the BBC has an even greater responsibility as it is publically funded. It is rather ironic that those who frequently attack the BBC most violently have leapt to Thatcher’s defence. They claim that the action has only been taken because of her family name. Well, it could be pointed out that she only has a career in the first place because of her name. But that is a distraction. They seem to believe that Jonathan Ross’ offense is greater than Thatcher’s. Obnoxious as he was, he didn’t use anything like the racially-charged language of Thatcher. He also showed contrition.

That she has her defenders is quite preposterous. It doesn’t matter if Thatcher is racist in her behaviour, it matters that she used a racially offensive word and has refused to see how that can be offensive. In the first place it was her colleagues who were offended and brought the matter to the BBC’s attention. That should tell her something. Also, the fact that it was not uttered on air is a red herring. Are we really saying that we need to wait to have this kind of word broadcast across the nation to take action? It is this kind of casual acceptance of racist language that seeps into wider public consciousness. As a country we have largely realised the error of our ways and moved on. So should Carol Thatcher.

1 comment:

Matthew Rees said...

The only good bit about the Today programme coverage was the performance of the BBC Exec who simply repeated the message that it was a racist comment made in a work situation when asked ridiculous questions about private and jovial comments.