Ofcom probes Top Gear over Jeremy Clarkson's use of word 'pikey'

Clarkson's actions may yet come back to haunt the BBC

Chris Green@cghgreen
Wednesday 06 May 2015 08:08
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Jeremy Clarkson with his Top Gear mates, Richard Hammond, James May and The Stig
Jeremy Clarkson with his Top Gear mates, Richard Hammond, James May and The Stig

The BBC is facing further embarrassment over the behaviour of Jeremy Clarkson after Ofcom announced an investigation into whether his use of the word “pikey” on Top Gear was racially offensive to Gypsies and Travellers.

In March the BBC Trust was accused of “legitimising the use of a racist word” by clearing Clarkson of any wrongdoing on an episode broadcast in February last year. He was seen erecting a sign bearing the words “Pikey’s Peak”, continuing a long running in-joke about co-presenter Richard Hammond.

Clarkson has since been axed by the BBC after an internal investigation found he had launched an “unprovoked physical and verbal attack” on Top Gear producer Oisin Tymon, which left his colleague bleeding and requiring hospital treatment.

But his actions may yet come back to haunt the corporation. Ofcom said yesterday it had launched its own independent probe into the “pikey” episode, which could result in the BBC being found guilty of breaching the Broadcasting Code.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word “pikey” is an offensive term which derives from “pike” – an old word for a road on which a toll is collected

The regulator took action after receiving a complaint from the Traveller Movement charity, which is unhappy with the BBC Trust’s decision and has also called into question Ofcom’s own research into what constitutes racist language.

“Ofcom is investigating a complaint from the Traveller Movement that it was offensive to include a placard with ‘Pikey’s Peak’ written on it in this BBC show,” a spokesman for the regulator said yesterday. It is expected to take around two months to reach a decision.

In its ruling in March, the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee concluded there had been “no intended racist reference” by the Top Gear team, arguing that the word “pikey” had “evolved into common parlance among a number of people to mean ‘chavvy’ or ‘cheap’.”

But a copy of the charity’s complaint to Ofcom, seen by The Independent, said this was a false distinction. “Top Gear are aware that the word is racially denigrative and are knowingly (and this is ‘known’ to the audience as well as themselves) exploiting the grey area between generally acceptable and unacceptable language,” it states.

Romany Gypsies and Irish Travellers are recognised under the Equality Act as an ethnic minority group in the UK.

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A spokesman from the Traveller Movement said it welcomed the Ofcom investigation. “The BBC Trust ruling was absurd when it ruled that the Top Gear use of the word ‘pikey’ had nothing to do with Gypsies and Travellers and meant cheap and dodgy instead,” he said.

“Seeing as the word had been used by Clarkson and his crew in the past alongside a reference to selling pegs and heather, it is clearly the Trust that is being a bit cheap and dodgy.

“We believe in freedom of speech, but with that freedom there must be responsibility. The BBC Trust abdicated that responsibility when legitimised the use of a racist word on one of their most popular and money-spinning programmes.”

The BBC has declined to comment.

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