Sorry seems to be the hardest word for Jeremy Clarkson
THE BBC was twisting and turning on the horns of a dilemma of its own making last night, as the Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson was forced into a hurried apology for his "one-eyed Scottish idiot" jibe against Gordon Brown.
The corporation was struggling to outline how far its performers could go in expressing opinions and how sorry you had to be if you made a mistake, amid suspicion the rules might be bent for big-ratings stars such as Clarkson and Jonathan Ross but not for the daughter of a former Tory prime minister.
Meanwhile, the macho motoring presenter, a self-styled scourge of political correctness, was still under fire for the nature of his apology. While saying sorry for commenting on Mr Brown's "appearance", he did not apologise for his gratuitous inclusion of "Scottish" in his remarks. Critics said there was only one reason why the Englishman included the PM's nationality in his diatribe.
Last night, the BBC had still not responded to accusations of tacit racism by insisting they accepted Clarkson's apology and consider-ed the matter closed.
Ian Macrae, editor of the magazine Disability Now, which is published by the charity Scope, questioned why Carol Thatcher had been sacked for saying "golliwog" in a private, off-air conversation, while Clarkson was only reprimanded for insulting the Prime Minister's disability, nationality and intellectual ability during a press conference.
He said: "That the BBC will not tolerate racism expressed in private by one of its front-line presenters, while failing to condemn Clarkson for an overtly disablist reference to a major public figure, smacks of double standards."
Clarkson, whose Sunday Times columns are syndicated in the Weekend Australian newspaper, is in Australia to host Top Gear Live, a stage version of the hit television series.
He was speaking at a press conference in Sydney to promote the show when he made the "one-eyed Scottish idiot" remark. He also dismissed British viewers of his show as "apes" and said it did not matter if his stuntmen were killed "because they are French".
At first, the BBC declined to comment, saying: "We believe this is more of a Jeremy Clarkson issue than a Top Gear issue."
But after the Equality and Human Rights Commission had branded his remarks "derogatory", and as outrage snowballed into fury, a half-hearted apology from Clarkson suddenly materialised in a press release from BBC Worldwide, the corporation's commercial arm.
"In the heat of the moment, I made a remark about the Prime Minister's personal appearance for which, upon reflection, I apologise," it read.
Initially, it seemed unclear: was it Clarkson's decision to say sorry, or did the BBC apply pressure, as it did with Ms Thatcher, demanding an apology for her "golliwog" remark?
Philip Fleming, a BBC Worldwide spokesman, told The Scotsman yesterday: "We are in Australia and doing a live show when most of this furore was going on. It would not have been right or fair on the Australians to drag him off the stage. We discussed it after he came off stage and it was agreed that an apology would be made."
However, a spokeswoman for the corporation later emphatically denied the BBC had asked Clarkson to say sorry. "He was not asked to apologise for anything," said Kate Toft.
The Labour MSP Lord George Foulkes denounced Clarkson's apology as "half-hearted" and "mealy-mouthed".
He said: "There is an element of anti-Scottish sentiment in what Jeremy Clarkson said, and there is a danger that what Clarkson said could fuel anti-Scottish sentiments in England. The BBC must take swift action to deal with these kind of racist remarks."
Christine Grahame, an SNP MSP, said: "It is just abuse. It plays to the lowest, lowest denominators of society. You cannot make these racist remarks. If you were to substitute the phrase with 'one-eyed black idiot' or 'one-eyed Muslim idiot', I'm sure things would be different."
However, Ms Toft said no more apologies would be forthcoming. "Jeremy was aware what part of his comments were offensive and that's what he has apologised for, and the BBC has accepted that apology," she said.
Asked if this meant the BBC tacitly condoned Clarkson's description of Mr Brown as "Scottish" and "an idiot", she added: "He has apologised in full, and we have got no further comment to make."
But Lord Foulkes said: "(Clarkson] has not apologised for attacking him for being Scottish or for being an idiot, which he is not. Gordon Brown is one of the brightest people in the House of Commons. Clarkson is totally ignorant."
Jim Murphy, the Scottish Secretary, also condemned all parts of Clarkson's remark as offensive, and criticised the BBC for treating him differently from Ms Thatcher. "Each of those phrases were intended as an insult. (The BBC] has to be consistent. Carol Thatcher appears to have been racist in her comments. Jeremy Clarkson undoubtedly has insulted the Prime Minister," he said.
Ms Grahame called for a firm policy to prevent similar controversies in future. She said: "He (Clarkson] should be punished. It is different when you sit down at a press conference and you know that it will be seen.
"It appears that the BBC have no proper control at the top to see through this. I think that they need to make it clear in their employees' contracts – if they are in a public area, they need to have a certain control of their language."
Defending accusations the BBC was operating double standards, Ms Toft said: "Carol Thatcher did not offer a full and unreserved apology. She was given the opportunity to, and she did not. Jeremy is very well known for his outbursts and often treads a fine line, and on this occasion he went over the line and has rightly apologised."
Charities for the blind and friends of Mr Brown were quick to condemn "offensive" comments about his eyesight.
The Royal National Institute of Blind People said: "Any suggestion that equates disability with incompetence is totally unacceptable."
Owen Dudley Edwards, who went to Edinburgh University with Mr Brown, described Clarkson's comments as "utterly despicable". He said: "This fellow is clearly looking for the same publicity as the wretched Jonathan Ross.
"It is really tragic that people are being as despicable as this just so they can make a name for themselves. Gordon Brown didn't go on about his disability. He was a tremendously brave person and a very good man."
Mr Murphy added: "Not everyone knows about the accident when he was younger and the impact it has had on his life. He has come through life fighting a disability. He has never asked for special treatment.
"Jeremy Clarkson has been foolish and idiotic for talking about it the way he has."
A spokesperson for Alex Salmond, the First Minister, said: "Jeremy Clarkson's remarks were foolish and insensitive. He is a clown – at least now he is an apologetic clown."
Clarkson's comment reveals not just bad taste but bad feeling
CALLING the Prime Minister an idiot is not the most eloquent political insult, but many will agree with the sentiment. Calling him one-eyed may technically be true, but attacking a person's disability is in the worst possible taste.
But in choosing also to denigrate Gordon Brown for being Scottish, Jeremy Clarkson has revealed a knee-jerk prejudice that exists among many middle and lower-class English.
Whether it is resentment and jealousy at the populist moves of the SNP Scottish Government (scrapping prescription charges and student fees), or frustration with their own lot, this Little Englander angst is on the increase. And it is fuelled in part by Clarkson's uncanny ability to articulate its ugly sentiments, allowing it to contaminate others.
Witness the reporting of Scottish initiatives in the London-based press as being funded by England. Witness the grumbling that Westminster is dominated by a "Scottish McMafia" – Mr Brown and his Chancellor, Alistair Darling – propped up by Scottish MPs.
Witness the howls of protest at the division of the UK government funding, with generous slices for Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales (but the silence at the fact that London gets the biggest bite out of the national cake). Or even the most recent claims that Scotland is a "Soviet" state in which two out of three jobs depends on the public sector.
Such is the environment that such anti-Scottish prejudice resonates. In some cases it is considered racist.
Take the case of former TV presenter Mark Souster, who claimed he lost his job in Scotland because he was English and was ousted by "anti- English" bosses. The Court of Session ruled a claim of discrimination could be made under the Race Relations Act, and Souster accepted a four-figure out-of-court settlement.
Cameron Fyfe, a solicitor with the law firm Ross Harper, said calling someone Scottish in certain contexts could be seen to be racist. "It depends on the context. If you said 'that inventor is Scottish', clearly that is not racist, but if you said someone is a 'Scottish b******' the fact that you have put the Scottish in with the swear word could have a racist slant."
Exclusion of English 'a major problem' in Scotland
DISCRIMINATION against English people is still a major problem in Scotland, according to an academic work recently published.
In his book The English in Scotland, Dr Douglas Robertson, a social scientist at Stirling University, claims that the English feel unaccepted and excluded in Scotland.
He said discrimination is based on accent, rather than skin or gender, and described it as "a major problem" for Scotland.
The research, which was carried out in 2003-4, showed that even English people who had lived in Scotland for 30 years did not feel they belonged.
"The English are our biggest minority group, but you never hear the term Scots English as you might hear Scots Italian, Scots Indian or Scots Welsh," he said.
He said devolution had apparently reduced discrimination "possibly because of a decline in a feeling of disenfranchisement", but he wants to carry out a new study to see if the process has been reversed by Scotland having a nationalist government.
He said there was still an element of discrimination, which was manifested most clearly during major sports events such as the football World Cup.
Thousands call the BBC to support Thatcher
THE BBC has received a further 1,100 complaints in 24 hours about dropping Carol Thatcher from The One Show.
The corporation said it had received a total of 2,245 complaints about the decision to axe Ms Thatcher, but by yesterday the tally had reached 3,348.
The number of messages backing the BBC more than doubled rising from 60 to 133.
The former prime minister's daughter was dropped from the programme after she referred to a tennis player as a "golliwog" during a conversation in the green room.
Boris Johnson, the London mayor, a regular guest on BBC programmes such as Have I Got News For You, said she should simply have been taken aside and spoken to.
"I don't think she should have been fired," he said. "I think the way to deal with it (is to] say, 'Listen, we've all got to work together and you've got to watch what you say and you've got to be sensitive'.
"But I don't think you fire someone, I really don't."
In a speech to Labour Party activists in Manchester today, Hazel Blears, the Communities Secretary, will voice her support for the BBC's decision.
"It is right that the BBC took the action they did – they deserve credit for protecting their employees from offensive racist language," she will say.
"Of course 'golliwog' is an offensive, racist word when directed at a black person. It is a nasty word, and belies a nasty attitude."
"The job of decent people is to drive racist language, attitudes and violence out of our society, and the action of the BBC is another step forward in that task."
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