Complaint upheld over 'sick' Channel 4 joke

Tom Peck
Sunday 23 October 2011 08:39

Katie Price has attacked the media regulator Ofcom for failing to demand that Channel 4 broadcast an apology for remarks made by the Glaswegian comedian Frankie Boyle about her disabled son, Harvey.

Ofcom upheld 500 complaints about a routine by the comic and strongly criticised Channel 4, but stopped short of demanding an on-air apology. Channel 4 defended the routine, which had been viewed and approved for broadcast by the chief executive, David Abraham. He said the channel's job was to champion and pioneer "distinctive voices in British comedy and bring them to a wider audience". Ofcom said Boyle appeared to "target and mock the mental and physical disabilities" of the eight-year-old.

Tom Pey, chief executive of the charity the Royal London Society for Blind People, said: "David Abraham should now resign. His position is untenable."

Ms Price said: "While I am pleased that Ofcom has ruled against Channel 4, I am amazed that Ofcom has not required, at the least, an apology to be broadcast. This issue is not and never was about me. It was about a direct attack on a disabled eight-year-old child by a national broadcaster (which, let us not forget, is to be the official broadcaster for the 2012 Paralympics – a role which should be questioned in light of this finding)."

Channel 4 said viewers were given strong warnings about the show, which started at 10pm, an hour after the watershed. On the show, Boyle said: "Jordan and Peter Andre are still fighting each other over custody of Harvey – eventually one of them will lose and have to keep him."

He added: "I have a theory about the reason Jordan married a cage fighter – she needed a man strong enough to stop Harvey from fucking her."

The channel denied that the joke about Price and Harvey was about Harvey's disability, or about rape or incest, insisting that it was "simply absurdist satire". The broadcaster said that Price had already put her child in the public eye; had sparked complaints about being too sexually explicit in front of her children in her own reality show; and that her husband, Alex Reid – from whom she has since split – "made a series of public jokes" about Harvey resembling the Incredible Hulk.

The broadcaster said it was "these specific remarks and the general high profile of the child, that Frankie Boyle's joke is predicated upon".

It said that a joke about custody was not about Harvey but "aimed clearly at Katie Price and Peter Andre, painting them as cynically exploiting a child in custody proceedings in the media".

However, Ofcom said any "intended satire in the two comments was... obscured by their straightforward focus on Harvey Price and his disability". It accepted that Price, Reid and Price's former husband, Peter Andre, "have consciously exposed their and their children's lives to the media". But it said that this did not justify humour targeted at a child's expense, especially when the child is "as young as eight years old and has a number of disabilities which are specifically focused on as the target of that intended humour". David Congdon, head of campaigns and policy at Mencap, the learning disability charity, said he was "pleased" that Ofcom had upheld the complaints, but added: "Channel 4's response is baffling, particularly the comments ... about their programming "testing the boundaries".

The comedian David Schneider, who has previously defended comedians whose jokes have caused controversy, was also critical. He said: "It wasn't funny. It wasn't rooted in truth. Disabled kids aren't looking to rape people. There's a missing link. All that was left was offensiveness. You have to be able to defend your joke. This one's not defendable. Channel 4 got it wrong."

'A further insult to my son . . .' Katie Price's statement

* While I am pleased that Ofcom have ruled against Channel 4 and I understand that they consider this ruling itself to be a sanction against the broadcaster – I am amazed that Ofcom have not required, at the least, an apology to be broadcast. This strikes me as a further insult to my wonderful son and another in a series of failures in this sordid affair.

To recap, Ofcom have found that Mr Boyle chose to 'directly target and mock the mental and physical disabilities of my son' and to demean him. They found that such behaviour was highly offensive yet have chosen not to require Channel 4 to publish an apology but leave their reaction as a matter for them. I have no doubt that Channel 4, given their behaviour to date, will not apologise and this must have been clear to Ofcom. This is sadly symptomatic of how disability is treated in our society and should not be accepted.

There have been a series of failures to exercise any judgment in this matter. Mr Boyle's judgment in choosing to target my eight-year-old son with his vile comments was the first.

The second failure was Channel 4's decision to broadcast these comments and given that Ofcom have found that they deliberately targeted a disabled eight-year-old, who there is going to take responsibility? We are told that input was provided into this programme from the Head of Comedy, Channel 4's Disability Adviser, Director of Creative Diversity, Controller of Legal & Compliance and Channel 4's Editor-in-Chief. Did none of these, presumably, highly educated individuals think that targeting an eight-year-old disabled boy in this way was repugnant? Are any of them going to take responsibility for Channel 4 having breached the broadcasting code and for airing material of this nature?

Given the third failure (the failure to immediately apologise for these grotesque remarks) I don't expect anyone at Channel 4 to now behave appropriately. Channel 4 attempted to justify their actions to Ofcom (the fifth failure) by attacking me. This issue is not and never was about me. It was about a direct attack on a disabled eight-year-old child by a national broadcaster (which let us not forget is to be the official broadcaster for the 2012 Paralympics – a role which should be questioned in light of this finding).

Given Channel 4's failures I can't help but feel Ofcom have let Harvey and disabled people in general down by not requiring Channel 4 to apologise. Would they have taken this route if Harvey was the child of a well-known politician?. It is clear that people at the highest levels in Channel 4 made a major misjudgement and that they are not capable of seeing how wrong their behaviour was. To expect them, as Ofcom seemingly expect, to now admit they were wrong and apologise is simply to turn their back on my son.

Does Mr Boyle or those executives at Channel 4 that allowed this material to be broadcast have the guts or common decency to apologise to my wonderful son? Sadly, I expect a cowardly and mealy mouthed response.

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