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Monday 23 October 2017

Jeremy Clarkson is cleared of racism by BBC over 'pikey' sign on Top Gear

Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson who has been suspended by the BBC
Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson who has been suspended by the BBC "following a fracas" with a producer
Jeremy Clarkson
Oisin Tymon
Jeremy Clarkson centre with co-hosts Richard Hammond left, and James May

Jeremy Clarkson was not being racist when he used the word "pikey" on Top Gear, the BBC Trust has ruled, in a decision which has sparked condemnation from the Traveller Movement.

The presenter, whose future is in doubt following a "fracas" with a producer on the hit series, put up a placard with the words Pikey's Peak on the BBC2 series in February last year.

But the Trust's Editorial Standards Committee (ESC) concluded that the word had been used to mean "cheap", rather than as a term of racist or ethnic abuse.

A spokesman for the Traveller Movement rejected the decision, saying: "We are horrified by the BBC's green lighting of the use of the word 'pikey' by the Top Gear presenters."

Its decision came as Clarkson raised more eyebrows with his column in Top Gear magazine, when he discussed immigrant taxi drivers in London, saying that their cars smell "faintly of lavender oil and sick".

The BBC Trust ruling comes after viewers complained that the Pikey's Peak sign was "grossly offensive and racist" to the "gypsy traveller community", whose children are often subjected to the word as a term of abuse in schools.

In the episode, which compared hatchback cars from the 1980s with their contemporary equivalent, Clarkson and James May joked about co-presenter Richard Hammond's lack of style when he selected a Vauxhall Nova.

The stars then completed a circuit on a race course and Clarkson was seen putting up the handmade placard on a wooden hut.

COMPLAINTS

Programme makers said that the use of the sign was also a pun on the name of the US racecourse Pikes Peak.

The ESC said the word "had evolved into common parlance among a number of people to mean 'chavvy' or 'cheap' and, depending on the context, viewers would not necessarily associate it with the gypsy and Traveller communities".

But complainants said that it had been "disingenuous of the BBC to argue that there is no intended racist reference when using the word" because in its previous uses of the term, Top Gear "had made clear that 'pikey' refers to gypsies and Travellers".

The ESC added: "On this occasion, the use of the word 'pikey' as a play on words would not have been seen as a careless or purposeless stereotype about Travellers and gypsies, but in keeping with the style of humour exhibited by the presenters towards Richard Hammond's perceived 'cheap' style."

But it did admit that the word "did have the potential to be deeply offensive to the gypsy and Traveller communities" and that it "can be used in an abusive context".

"Programme makers should bear in mind the potential for offence this word may have in some circumstances and employ extreme care and sensitivity when using it," it added.

A spokesman for the Traveller Movement said: "The claim that it has evolved a new meaning and that most people do not realise it has any reference at all with gypsies and travellers is absolute rubbish.

"It is an absurd decision that flies in the face of the evidence we presented during the 13-month-long complaint process."

hnews@herald.ie

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