BBC presenter Graham Norton has been reprimanded for reinforcing “potentially offensive stereotypes” after a joke about lesbians attracted one complaint.
The BBC’s response invites comparison to the way in which it has dealt with complaints about its negative stereotyping of Christians.
The incident occured during an episode of his talk show aired in March when Mr Norton pointed to a picture on a patent application and remarked, “I don’t know why they’ve got some strange lesbian to be the model.”
An exchange followed during which Mr Norton was asked “What does a lesbian look like?”. He indicated the picture and replied: “That”, adding: “Anyway, there’s nothing wrong with being a lesbian”.
The BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit upheld the single complaint, stating that the exchange appeared to be “perpetuating or reinforcing a potentially offensive stereotype”.
“The programme team were reminded of the need to avoid any possibility of being seen to endorse offensive sexual stereotypes.”
The incident is likely to prompt comparisons with the BBC’s rejection of the 63,000 complaints it received after screening the controversial musical Jerry Springer the Opera.
The show, aired in January 2005, contained hundreds of swear words and featured God the Father, Jesus Christ, Mary, Adam and Eve and Satan as warring guests on a special edition of the Jerry Springer show staged in Hell.
The BBC’s Director General, Mark Thompson, defended the broadcast saying that there was nothing blasphemous in the show and that the screening was preceded with strong warnings that it could cause offence.
The Church of England recently challenged the BBC for treating Christianity like a “freak show”.
Earlier this year the BBC Trust rejected complaints against a TV drama depicting a fanatical British Christian beheading a moderate Muslim.
The Trust, a group of “independent trustees acting in the public interest”, rejected suggestions that the drama associated fanatical Christianity with evangelicalism and gave an offensive portrayal of evangelical Christians.
In January the BBC broadcast a drama depicting a pro-life group as violent terrorists. The drama’s plot involved parallels to the work of real-life organisations, but the fictional group kidnapped children and murdered one as part of an anti-abortion protest.
Real pro-life groups protested at the way their cause was painted by the drama, which the BBC repeated the following month.