Channel 4 ordered to apologise for BB racism

British TV operator Channel 4 today faced accusations of a cover-up during the Celebrity Big Brother race row today, as British media watchdog Ofcom ordered the broadcaster to apologise publicly for mishandling the affair.

British TV operator Channel 4 today faced accusations of a cover-up during the Celebrity Big Brother race row today, as British media watchdog Ofcom ordered the broadcaster to apologise publicly for mishandling the affair.

Transcripts released for the first time reveal Jade Goody, Danielle Lloyd, Jo O'Meara and Goody's boyfriend Jack Tweed made up a racist limerick about Bollywood star Shetty which made reference to the word 'Paki' - but the explosive scenes were never shown.

Tweed and S Club star O'Meara were hauled into the Diary Room and given formal warnings, but viewers were not told.

In Ofcom's report on the race row, Ofcom concluded that Channel 4 bosses had been unaware that the footage existed until three days later.

But it said Channel 4 had made "serious editorial misjudgments" elsewhere and found the broadcaster guilty of breaching the broadcasting code.

Despite the findings, Channel 4 chief executive Andy Duncan insisted that no heads would roll.

"We don't believe this is a resignation issue," he insisted, adding: "There were procedural errors and there was human error. But I don't think human error is a disciplinary offence. We are not going to single out any individual."

Duncan admitted for the first time that Shetty was the victim of racism.

He told Channel 4 News: "We would accept that racism took place.

"We absolutely understand that the key issue was racial offence, and there's no doubt that a lot of what did take place was racially offensive."

The show sparked an international outcry and 44,500 viewers complained that Shetty was the victim of racist bullying.

Ofcom singled out three occasions on which Channel 4 had failed to handle the situation appropriately.

They were: Jade Goody referring to Shetty as "Shilpa Poppadom"; Lloyd saying that Shetty should "f*** off home"; and the argument over Shetty cooking a chicken, which ended with Lloyd and O'Meara making derogatory comments about Indian eating habits.

The watchdog ordered Channel 4 to broadcast three on-air apologies when Big Brother 8 kicks off next week.

The apologies will be shown at the beginning of the launch show on Wednesday, on the review show the following day, and at the start of the first eviction show.

"Ofcom takes allegations of racist abuse and bullying on television extremely seriously," the watchdog said.

It is unprecedented for Ofcom to impose a statutory sanction like this on a public service broadcaster.

But it failed to impose a fine, which is the most serious sanction available - leaving some believing Channel 4 has got off lightly.

The secret transcripts were released as Channel 4 published its own findings into the race row.

After first discussing "the 'P' word" - which Tweed explained "rhymes with 'tacky'" - they went on to make up a limerick about Shetty.

The unbroadcast scenes from January 16 occurred shortly after Goody and Shetty had a screaming row.

O'Meara begins a limerick: "There once was a house that was happy, and then there entered..."

Goody said: "I've got a great one, but I'm not allowed to say it."

Cleo Rocos warned the group: "You're all going to Big Brother prison."

O'Meara joked: "But it ends with 'a nappy'. What's wrong with you people?"

Tweed then interjected: "But if you say 'Along came some people who were tacky...'."

The joke carried on, with the housemates inviting each other to finish the limerick.

Channel 4 said the footage did not come to light until January 19 and blamed junior production staff for failing to alert bosses to its existence.

Channel 4 could now face a fresh police probe into the secret footage.

Hertfordshire Police ended their investigation into alleged racist behaviour in March, saying no further action would be taken.

But officers were unaware until today that the footage existed because Channel 4 refused to hand over tapes of unbroadcast material. They will now examine the unseen transcripts.

Big Brother bosses confronted Tweed and O'Meara about their remarks on January 20 in a secret Diary Room discussion.

Big Brother told Tweed: "It has only now come to Big Brother's attention that you have made remarks that Big Brother considers to be racially offensive.

"You were using rhyming slang to replace what you called 'the P word'. You said the word rhymed with 'tacky'. It is clear to Big Brother that this was a reference to the racial insult 'Paki'."

Tweed attempted to deny he was being racist, saying: "I wasn't at all suggesting that the word was meant to be 'Paki'. I was saying tacky, as in tacky people."

But he ended the conversation by saying: "Can I just ask - is this out in the paper? Because if it is, I'd rather just leave now."

O'Meara also denied she had intended to be racist, saying: "You just play silly games in this house and do silly things."

Both were issued with formal warnings and ordered to meet the Big Brother psychologist.

Channel 4 could now face accusations of misleading the public over the existence of the secret footage.

On February 1, The Sun reported the existence of the tape and claimed production staff had written a note claiming: "Some dodgy clips do exist. We are f*****."

But Channel 4 insisted at the time: "There is no record of this incident in the logs or on the tapes. We already have an internal investigation going on and there are no secrets lurking about this."

The broadcaster said today it had not been a cover-up.

"We were asked the very specific question: had the word 'Paki' been used? It was not and we issued a denial."

Andy Duncan said he accepted Ofcom's sanctions - but pointed out that the broadcaster had escaped a fine.

Asked if it was a let-off by the watchdog, he replied: "I'm not describing it as that, but we have not been fined so it wouldn't be true to say this is the most serious sanction Ofcom can issue. We believe the sanction is proportionate."

Tim Suter of Ofcom explained why the watchdog decided against imposing a fine.

"We typically expect to give fines when it is a question of a repeated offence or a series of reckless or wilful or grossly negligent errors.

"Here, there were editorial judgments being made, but they were the wrong ones," he said.

But Commons Leader Jack Straw said: "Given the fact that this is the first time the regulator has found like this, the board of Channel 4 really need to consider the overall implications of allowing such material to be broadcast and what it does for their reputation as well as the reputation of the UK."

And Labour MP Keith Vaz, who led protests in Parliament over the issue, called for Duncan to resign.

Programme maker Endemol said it sincerely regretted any offence caused, but added: "We are grateful to Ofcom for recognising that the events of this series were in no way engineered or manufactured."

A spokesman for Jade Goody said today's report cleared her of any further wrongdoing.

"The Ofcom investigation has now shown that Jade never said any other racial epithets on Big Brother," he said.

However, the unseen transcripts released today reveal that she made the "Shilpa Poppadom" comment on two separate occasions, hours apart.

Lloyd and O'Meara also said they had been exonerated by the report.

Channel 4 has issued new guidelines for the housemates taking part in Big Brother 8, which begins on Wednesday.

House rules have been updated to include "serious harassment" and "bullying" as unacceptable behaviour.

The broadcaster also announced it is bringing back a Right To Reply-style programme and appointing a Viewers' Editor in a bid to deal with audience complaints more effectively.

More in this section

Puzzles logo
IE-logo

Puzzles hub

Visit our brain gym where you will find simple and cryptic crosswords, sudoku puzzles and much more. Updated at midnight every day.

great irish summer

From walking and hiking, to day trips and camping, your guide to holidays at home in 2021

Lifestyle
Newsletter

The best food, health, entertainment and lifestyle content from the Irish Examiner, direct to your inbox.

Sign up