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Stonewall: Ross’s ‘light-hearted’ comment still encourages bullying

Jessica Geen July 6, 2009
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Gay rights charity Stonewall has criticised the Ofcom judgement on Jonathan Ross, saying “light-hearted” comments can still lead to homophobic bullying in schools.

In May, exclusively reported that complaints had been received about his Saturday daytime Radio 2 show after he joked that children who appeared to be gay should be adopted before they bring their “partner” home. Ross was referring to male children who might want a Hannah Montana-themed MP3 player.

Ofcom received 61 complaints from listeners who thought his comments on the mid-morning show were offensive. Today, it ruled he had not breached the broadcasting code.

The ruling said: “The comment was clearly presented as a joke … and was not intended to cause offence.

“Ofcom also recognised that the comment was clearly aimed at an adult audience. Importantly, if children did hear this comment it was unlikely that they would have understood it or its implications. In light of this, Ofcom considered that there was little potential for the comment to be imitated by children, for example in the playground.”

Derek Munn, Stonewall’s director of public affairs, said: “The fact that a comment is light-hearted does not absolve it from perpetuating the stereotypes that lead to homophobic bullying, which is reflected in the 61 separate complaints listeners made.

“Stonewall’s research into homophobic bullying – The Teachers’ Report – has shown that of secondary school teachers who are aware of homophobic bullying in their schools, three in four say pupils who are perceived to be gay are bullied.

“All broadcasters should be sensitive to the damage that light-hearted comments could cause particularly at times when vulnerable young people, or their potential bullies, are listening.”

Meanwhile, David Allison of OutRage! commented: “Whilst I doubt that Jonathan Ross intended to offend gay people, he has once again demonstrated his tendency towards tacky taste. He really should think before he speaks, afterwards is too late.”

Last year, Ross was suspended from the BBC for three months after he and Russell Brand left obscene messages on the answerphone of Fawlty Towers actor Andrew Sachs.

On his return, he walked straight back into controversy with a joke about having sex with an elderly woman.

Ross is one of the BBC’s best-paid stars. He is thought to be earning £16.9 million for his current three-year deal.

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