Is the word “gay” sufficiently offensive to cause viewers to choke on their Sunday lunch? Channel 4 appeared to think so after editing the word out of a weekend repeat of The Simpsons.
The broadcaster has admitted it made a mistake after deciding that a use of the word “gay”, in its homosexual context, was unsuitable for a Sunday lunchtime audience.
The line was cut from a 1994 episode of The Simpsons, called Homer Loves Flanders, which was aired at 12.55pm on Sunday.
Homer goes to an American Football match with Ned Flanders but at first is embarrassed to be seen with his god-fearing neighbour. The pair bond after Ned buys a mountain of food and introduces Homer to the star quarterback.
As they drive away, they pass workmates Lenny and Carl in the car park. Homer proudly yells out of the window: “I want everyone to know that this is Ned Flanders ... my friend!”
In the original episode, Lenny turns to Carl and says: “What'd he say?” Carl replies: “I dunno. Somethin’ about being gay.”
The line plays on the homosexual under-current to Lenny and Carl’s relationship, a long-running Simpsons joke.
However in the Sunday version, Carl’s line was edited out, and the episode abruptly cut to adverts after Lenny said: “What’d he say?”
Channel 4 said that Simpsons episodes broadcast before 6pm are checked by its compliance department for any unsuitable content. In this instance, the compliance checker had been overly-cautious.
A spokesman said: “We always carefully consider the context in which language is used in our programming. However in this instance the episode was edited in error as neither the word nor the context was unsuitable.”
Ofcom, the broadcasting regulator, says there is no evidence to conclude that use of the word “gay” is “necessarily and automatically intended to be, or is, offensive.”
It can be offensive when broadcasters, such as Chris Moyles and Jeremy Clarkson, have employed the word in a context that “results in a negative portrayal of homosexual men and women.”
In 2006, Moyles was rapped over the knuckles for using the word “gay” as a synonym for “rubbish” on his Radio 1 Breakfast Show. But Ofcom also acknowledged that the Oxford English Dictionary now recognises a second usage of “gay” to mean “socially inappropriate, or disapproved of and lame”.
Broadcasters are told to restrict usage of “gay” in this context when children are likely to be watching, as it could contribute to bullying.
Last week John Key, the New Zealand Prime Minister, was criticised by gay rights groups for mocking a radio host’s red jacket, suggesting he was a weak golfer because his jacket’s colour was “gay”.
Mr Key told RadioSport presenter Jamie Mackay: “You’re munted mate. You’re never going to make it. You’ve got that gay red top on.”
Mr Key, who voted in favour of gay marriage, said “gay” was “just a slang term” used by young people. He said: “If someone was offended by it then I apologise but it’s not exactly like a term you don’t hear everywhere”.
Sir Ian McKellen, who played Gandalf in the New Zealand-filmed Lord of the Rings franchise, said Key “should watch his language.” The actor said: “I’m currently touring secondary schools in UK, attacking homophobia in the playground and discouraging kids from the careless use of 'gay' which might make their gay friends (and teachers) feel less about themselves.”
Rowan Atkinson is lobbying for the repeal of section 5 of the Public Order Act, which makes it an offence to use insulting words or behaviour and once resulted in the arrest of a student who called a police horse “gay”.
In 2006, Sam Brown was arrested for making homophobic remarks and spent the night in a cell after he suggested that a police horse was “gay”. The CPS decided that there was not enough evidence and it dropped the case.
In stark contrast to Channel 4’s act of “gay” self-censorship, Ofcom yesterday criticised the broadcaster for airing a dating show, Love Shaft, which featured contestants talking about “massive tits”, “slut” and “part-time slut”, in a morning slot when young children were likely to be watching.