C4 executive apologises for Big Brother homophobia row

Tony Grew July 13, 2007
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The head of Legal and Compliance at Channel 4 has told a gay audience that they made mistakes in their handling of a contestant on Big Brother who used the word ‘poof.’

Jan Tomalin was speaking at an event organised by the channel entitled “Homosexuality and the Media: How far have we come?”

She frankly admitted when asked about the incident: “we got it wrong.”

Channel 4 was accused of double standards when a female contestant called one of the men a ‘poof,’ yet no action was taken against her.

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

Nine days into the current series contestant Emily was removed from the house in the early hours of the morning after using the word “nigger.” readers expressed their disgust at what they see as a double standard.

Ms Tomalin said:

“I think it was a mistake, I think it was wrong to show the sequence that was shown.

“It involved Laura, who is a straight woman, saying to a straight man … calling him a poof in a light-hearted way and those who saw it felt that it was not directed at Gerry, the gay housemate.

“It was not used in a derogatory sense and they felt that within that context it was appropriate for broadcast.

“I do not think it was – plainly it wasn’t.

“We responded to the complaints that were received and we instructed and agreed with (Big Brother production company) Endemol if there was a repetition of her using the word at all, she would be called straight away into the diary room and be told that word is not acceptable.

“And that this would be broadcast as a clear message to viewers – that did happen.

“We got it wrong, we recognise that and we responded to public opinion and we dealt with it.

“Not everyone is going to agree with how we dealt with it – we had over a thousand calls from people who disagreed with Emily being evicted from the house for using the N word.

“These are not straightforward judgements, we don’t pretend to always get it right, but at least you have to say we responded to opinion.”

Gay rap star Q Boy, comedian Stephen K Amos and Labour peer Lord Alli all spoke about their experiences of homosexuality and television at the event, which was chaired by Rhona Cameron.

Channel 4 showed clips from their upcoming season of programmes marking the 40th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality.

A dramatisation of the trial of Lord Edward Montagu and Peter Wildeblood, entitled The Last Gay Trial, is one of the highlights.

Montagu and Wildeblood, a Daily Mail journalist, were arrested and tried for attempts to incite others to homosexual acts in 1954.

Both were imprisoned for 12 months.

Whilst Montagu continued to protest his innocence, Wildeblood became one of the first men in Britain to publicly declare his homosexuality.

The season will also feature Kevin Elyot’s Clapham Junction, which examines the lives of seven gay men over 36 hours.

The film was inspired the by homophobic murder of 24-year-old Jody Dobrowski on Clapham Common in 2005.

It is expected to attract controversy for its explicit portrayals of gay sex and of homophobic violence.

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