The BBC has been censured after writer Lynda La Plante used the word “retard” during an interview on Radio 4’s Today programme.
Industry watchdog Ofcom ruled that the interview with the 69-year-old in March breached the broadcasting code related to the transmission of potentially offensive material not justified by its context.
La Plante was discussing a story in the Daily Mail in which she was quoted as saying that some BBC staff were “retards”.
The writer brought up the story, describing it as “a headline that apparently I call people at the BBC ‘retards’”, prompting presenter Sarah Montague to question her on the use of the word at a recent event.
La Plante, who penned the successful BBC crime drama Prime Suspect, replied that she had been answering an audience question about where to send scripts.
“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’.”
The BBC said that Montague changed the subject when it became clear La Plante’s assumed clarification was “considerably less significant” than she had thought.
Ofcom accepted the corporation’s argument that the change of subject contained an “implicit criticism” of La Plante’s language. But it said that Montague should have addressed the point more explicitly and apologised to listeners.
In its judgment, Ofcom said: “Ms La Plante did not appear to recognise the potential for offence caused by this use of language, and did not apologise. Nor did the presenter explicitly challenge the guest’s second use of ‘retard’, choosing instead immediately to change the subject.
“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. While there was an implicit criticism of these uses of the word by the guest through the presenter abruptly changing the subject as she did, in Ofcom’s view it would have been preferable if the presenter had addressed the issue with a more explicit statement, to clarify the potential for this use of language to offend, and apologise for any offence caused to listeners.”