Entertainment & Arts

Today censured over Lynda La Plante offensive language

Lynda La Plante
Image caption Four listeners complained to Ofcom over Lynda La Plante's comments

BBC Radio 4's Today programme has been censured by Ofcom over an interview with writer Lynda La Plante, during which she used the word "retard".

The Prime Suspect author was discussing her induction to the Forensic Science Society when she made the remark.

She used the word a further two times during the show, which aired in March.

Ofcom said although the first use was editorially justified, the second and third "had the potential to cause considerable and gratuitous offence".

During the interview, La Plante said she was frustrated at being misquoted in the press and pointed to an article published that day in which she was reported to have used the word to describe BBC commissioning editors.

Host Sarah Montague questioned the author further on her use of the language which reportedly "drew gasps" from those who heard it.

La Plante replied: "It was a Q&A, somebody said, 'How do and where do I send a script to?', and I said 'You do not send a script, full script, anywhere, you learn how to do a treatment, because you don't know if there's a retard at the end of that envelope reading it'.

"Suddenly I've called everybody at the BBC a 'retard'."

Changing the subject, Montague said: "...moving on from that use of language, do you feel that the BBC is not listening to you and not wanting to use your work..."

Four listeners complained to Ofcom over the use of the word.

Editorial justification

In its response, the BBC said when La Plante raised the issue of the reported quote, and claimed not to have said it, Montague had assumed she was denying using an offensive term.

The broadcaster considered there was editorial justification for the first use of the word up to that point because the interviewer believed that she was about to offer a clarification - and possibly a denial - about something for which she had been widely criticised, and this merited journalistic exploration.

When it became apparent the clarification was "considerably less significant" than La Plante seemed to have suggested it might be, it was decided to move on in order to avoid further offence, as challenging the language further may potentially increase the offence caused.

Ofcom considered the complaints against guidelines which ensure the broadcast of potentially offensive material is justified by the context.

The regulator noted it was La Plante who first used the word in the programme and also the BBC's reasoning it was editorially justified to question her about it.

However when the author used it again, it was to confirm she had used it to make a derogatory remark and appeared to not recognise the potential for causing offence.

Ofcom considered the broadcast of the word on the second and third occasions "had the potential to cause considerable and gratuitous offence, and was not justified by the context".

It added although Montague changed the subject, "it would have been preferable" if the host had directly recognised the potential for offence and apologise to listeners.

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