Big Brother’s “double standards” over homophobic language

Tony Grew July 3, 2007
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Channel 4 has defended itself against accusations that it treats gay slurs less seriously than racist language on reality show Big Brother.

On Sunday a female contestant called one of the men a ‘poof,’ yet no action was taken against her. readers have expressed their disgust at what they see as a double standard.

After the racism row involving Indian actress Shilpa Shetty in Celebrity Big Brother in January, Channel 4 paid close attention to racist language on the show.

Nine days into the current series of Big Brother contestant Emily was removed from the house in the early hours of the morning after using the word “nigger.”

At the time Angela Jain, who heads the Big Brother commissioning team at Channel 4, said:

“The word nigger is clearly racially offensive and there was no justification for its use.

“We have removed Emily from the house to once again make it clear to all housemates and the viewers at home that such behaviour won’t be tolerated.”

On last Sunday’s episode of the show, contestant Laura used the term ‘poof’in a derogatory way against fellow housemate Liam.

It was used in the context of Liam not being sufficiently masculine.

Channel 4 deny that they are treating homophobic language as less serious than racist language.

A spokeswoman for Big Brother told

“During a chat in the bedroom Laura was tickling Liam’s feet as he tried not to laugh. When he did laugh, Laura called him “you poof” in an affectionate and flirting way.

“The words were not said in anger nor were they intended to be derogatory or demeaning. Neither Liam, nor any other housemate, took offence to this term.

“The use of the word was carefully considered in the context in which it was said and consideration given to the fact that no offence was intended or caused to any other housemate,” the spokeswoman said.

“However we understand how this word could cause offence to some viewers and we have taken on board these concerns.

“All housemates are and will be continually monitored regarding any language or behaviour that Big Brother deems unacceptable.

Big Brother absolutely does not regard homophobia as any less serious than racism.

“House rules clearly state that Big Brother will intervene and take appropriate action if housemates behave in a way that Big Brother considers unacceptable.

“Unacceptable behaviour includes behaving in a way that could cause serious offence to either their fellow housemates or members of the viewing public including serious offence based on the grounds of age, disability, gender, race, religion, beliefs or sexual orientation.”

Despite no housemates being offended by the use of the word ‘nigger’ earlier in the series, the contestant who said it was expelled from the house. reader James Byrne said he was offended by the use of the word ‘poof.’

“If Channel 4 does not remove this contestant with the same speed as the contestant guilty of using a racially derogatory remark then they are guilty of exhibiting double standards, being inconsistent and tacitly supporting the use of this term to bully others in the wider society,” he said.

“The gay community should be treated at least in the same way as any ethnic community.”

Reader Simon Brunger claimed that housemate Ziggy has referred to some female housemates as lesbians, using the word in a clearly derogatory sense.

“The use and broadcast of the word ‘poof’ perpetuates the idea that homophobic language is acceptable,” he told

“In playgrounds and workplaces around the country, many gay men, women and children have to sit by and listen to these kinds of words being bandied around, and for them to be entirely acceptable.

“Channel 4 and ( Big Brother production company) Endemol have gone out of their way to assure viewers that offensive comments will be dealt with, but they have so far done nothing about the use of homophobic language. It seems there is a double standard here.”

The BBC has also been criticised for not taking homophobia among its presenters seriously.

In May Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson was criticised by broadcasting watchdog Ofcom for using homophobic cockney-rhyming slang to describe a car.

The BBC’s head of editorial complaints conceded that Mr Clarkson’s comments about the Daihatsu Copen in a programme broadcast last year were capable of causing offence.

Clarkson, who also writes columns for tabloid newspapers, asked a member of the audience if he would buy the car, to which he replied “no, its a bit gay.”

The presenter then said “A bit gay, yes, very ginger beer.”

Ofcom decided that the use of the word ‘gay’ could mean foolish or stupid, according to the dictionary.

But they went on to criticise the presenter’s comments:

“In Ofcom’s opinion, the use of the word became capable of giving offence. In the context, there was no justification for using the word in this way.”

Last June Chris Moyles’ came under fire from anti-bullying charities for describing a ringtone as ‘gay,’ using the word to mean the same as ‘rubbish,’ on his Radio 1 show.

The BBC refused to apologise for the incident.

BBC governors backed the DJ saying the items “met the required editorial standards and did not demonstrate homophobia.”

Complaints about Big Brother should be directed to Channel 4 or to Ofcom.

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