Monday, February 20, 2006

Coronation Street cleared by Ofcom

Ofcom, the independent media regular has ruled that Coronation Street was not in breach of the Broadcasting Code for an episoide on 16 January. 502 viewers complained about a character using the phrase "poor white trash." Here's the full text of the Ofcom decision(pdf file).

ITV 1, 16 January 2006, 20:30


In this episode, single mum Sunita is struggling to keep her head above water with her new-born twins. Her brother Jayesh suggests the possibility of her going back to live with their parents. In the course of the conversation, he suggests that such a move would be preferable to living like “…poor white trash”. 502 viewers complained that the expression was unacceptable and racist.


In drama it is often the case that characters will say challenging things in order to propel storylines and, indeed, raise issues - sometimes of a controversial nature. Such characterisation, in terms of freedom of expression for writers, producers and actors, is an important right. It is important that modern day dramas are able to
reflect the society they seek to portray. Coronation Street often handles controversial issues, including race, from different angles.

Against this has to be balanced the possibility of offence. Rule 2.3 of the Broadcasting Code requires broadcasters to justify the inclusion of potentially offensive material through the context in which it is broadcast. Relevant contextual elements in this particular scene were that:
  • the character of Jayesh has been established in previous episodes, when, it is clear, he is unhappy with the life and the life-partners Sunita has chosen. He is not necessarily a sympathetic character;
  • Jayesh, although a man with traditional views, does not necessarily represent any one particular group or community;
  • Sunita’s response to her brother clearly showed that his comments were unacceptable. She retorted “… some of my best friends are what you would call poor white trash”.
  • Very soon afterwards, because Jayesh persisted in his attitude, Sunita threw him out telling him never to come back.
While the term “white trash” has obvious racist overtones, it can also be used in context to describe those from a low socio-economic group. It was clear throughout the dialogue and characterisation that the programme was not condoning the attitudes displayed by Jayesh. However, it is also clear that the programme, dwelling as it often does on contemporary social issues, has a right to reflect the fact that some people do hold such attitudes. By portraying them in dramatic form, in our view, the programme took a legitimate approach to exploring such matters.

Not in breach

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