BBC chief defends Thatcher sacking

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The BBC today defended its decision to axe Carol Thatcher from a flagship show for referring to a tennis player as a "golliwog" - blaming her for not apologising.

The former prime minister's daughter was dropped as a contributor to the One Show on Tuesday night after talks with corporation bosses.

BBC1 controller Jay Hunt said the comment was made in the green room in front of presenter Adrian Chiles, comedian Jo Brand and a senior charity worker from Comic Relief.

The corporation has been accused of overreacting to a "private" comment, but Ms Hunt firmly rejected that view and told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that serious offence had been caused.

"What Carol decides to say in the privacy of her own home or in a private conversation with friends is one thing. What she says in a green room space when there are 12 people in her capacity as a roving reporter for the One Show is a rather different thing.

"On this occasion, her using this phrase and it being overheard and having caused offence to a number of people was totally inappropriate.

"It was deemed inappropriate in the circumstances for her to continue to work on a show that prides itself not just on the diversity of its production team but on the range of its coverage across the country. I think everybody will be able to see that that is not an appropriate place for her to work."

Thatcher continued to work for the BBC on other programmes, she said, but she said it was "sad" she did not feel able to apologise.

"She still maintains that this was a comment made in jest. We have ascertained subsequently from the people who are party to that conversation that by nobody's reckoning could it be deemed to have been used in a jokey fashion.

"Do we think it is appropriate in 2009 for somebody to explain away the use of a word which is deemed by a very substantial proportion of the public to be hugely offensive as a joke?

"What I find sad about the entire situation is that we have given Carol ample opportunity to apologise for offence that was caused to key named individuals.

"She felt unable to do that and for that reason it is not appropriate for her to work on that particular show, but she will continue to work for the BBC and indeed is."

Ms Hunt told Today: "It is an interesting debate about privacy but at the end of the day this was not in a private context: she was employed by the One Show; she was speaking in a BBC workplace environment; and she was hugely offensive and she caused offence.

"In that context we have to be absolutely clear about the status of what she was saying. We needed to act and we have acted."

She rejected claims the former PM's daughter was being treated differently from star presenter Jonathan Ross, who returned to his show this month after suspension for a broadcast of lewd comments being left on actor Andrew Sachs' answerphone.

"I fundamentally disagree. At the end of the day, Jonathan, as soon as he had overstepped the mark, was completely clear that he needed to apologise and he apologised publicly.

"Jonathan apologised; Jonathan was aware of the fact that he had caused offence; he said immediately that he was sorry for the offence he had caused; he apologised profusely to Andrew Sachs.

"Since then, he has reiterated that apology on air. He was suspended for his behaviour but he understood that he had caused offence and he apologised.

"Regrettably, and it is regrettably, on this occasion Carol does not think that she has caused offence, she doesn't think she has anything to apologise for and for that reason it has not been appropriate for her to continue work on a show that prides itself on its diversity."

She ridiculed suggestions that Ms Thatcher deserved an apology for the "leaking" of the remark.

Ms Thatcher's agent Ali Gunn told talkSport radio yesterday that Thatcher was the victim of a personal campaign and that no-one objected to her comment at the time.

"I think it's absolutely outrageous that the BBC has condoned this leak. They haven't even disciplined the member of staff and frankly we issued a fulsome apology that was rejected by them. But they should be issuing us with an apology."

The controller said: "We really, really have to put this one to bed. How can we talk about something leaking? This was not a private conversation.

"She was in a space with 12 other people, some of whom were journalists. I don't think in that context you talk about snitches and people leaking; you talk about what inevitably happens when you talk in front of 12 individuals."

The remark was made during a conversation about the Australian Open tennis tournament, in reference to a player who had recently been knocked out of the men's singles draw.