Thursday, 30 June 2011

Katie Price, Mencap, C4 & Me

In advance of Katie Price's documentary Standing up for Harvey, here is my blog reproduced from my website detailing my own battle with C4 and disablist humour.I'd hoped the fight I had would improve things clearly not.

After 4 months of battling to get Channel 4 and Ofcom to recognize that retard jibes on Celebrity Big Brother were offensive and that my original complaint of 31st of January should be upheld.On the 24th May 2010 Ofcom published the findings of a 3rd review panel held on 27th April.

We won.

Two words which after all the time and effort we put in should leave me glowing with happiness that dragons have been slain and common sense has triumphed.

Yet today I can’t shift the feeling, which I have returned to many times in the last four months, overwhelming sadness. I can’t stop asking questions.

Why did I have to devote 4 months of my life making Ofcom and C4 understand that disabled people have a right not to be degraded, only to have that right denied twice?

Why did Mencap have to commission a poll on the word retard and it’s abusive use and 750 people have to email their concerns and their own  experiences as disabled people, targeted by the word "retard" to Ofcom appealing their decision?

Why did the Elfrida Society members have to stage a protest outside Ofcom’s offices with placards reading "the word retard is no joke"?

Why didn’t the national press care enough to cover the story? 

Then as now with a couple of notable exceptions this chilling lack of interest, even from publications devoted to the issues raised, speaks volumes.

Ofcom's 3rd review system only came into being in November 2009. It is not automatically granted. There needs to be enough compelling evidence that the two prior reviews have been in some way flawed for the decision to grant a third, to be accepted.

It was gratifying to recieve a letter from Ofcom stating that my two previous(lengthy) emails had produced compelling evidence for the review to be granted.

This is only the second case that has been reviewed at the 3rd stage and the decision they reached is the first of it's kind. 
This is news.
Why is no-one covering it aside from reporting the Ofcom bulletin board.

The Jeremy Vine Show has my deep gratitude for devoting a considerable portion of their show last week by allowing me to tell the story and debating the issue.

My comment is free piece in The Guardian in April triggered the predictable “it’s an attempt to quash freedom of speech, it’s PC gone mad” reactions which I knew would come.

I wrote about the Ofcom battle and I also discussed humour generally and particularly the small but worrying trend of the comedy of cruelty by it's favourite son Frankie Boyle.
The mocking and objectifying of disability framed around a stereotypical view of disabled people seems to be a lucrative business for him and Jimmy Carr.They are thankfully in the minority.

My piece garnered 250 replies with all but a few of them negative and  made for pretty grim viewing.I didn't want to wade through them but I was asked to reply, so read them I had to.
It's an uncomfortable place to be but what struck me most is how vociferously the people posting in fury made the point about freedom of speech, whilst nicely cocooned in their anonymity. Irony eh?

Ultimately my call was for a very simple thing.Equality.

Context is key. All issues should be tackled in humour and drama. There should be no taboos.What there should be is integrity. Satire and irony are the lifeblood of democracy and keep us from sinking into the mire of sanitized media, but do so with with integrity. There is a huge difference between actual irony and hate speech dressed up as irony.

Use humour with intelligence not reliance on stereotypes, which seek to cruelly belittle and only serve to further disenfranchise people.

You only have to look to Stewart Lee, Jesse Armstrong,Simon Blackwell, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant to see that diverse issues can be tackled with humour. Comedy without cruelty is the key to finding the humour in diversity.

If there is a list rating diverse groups in order of importance, in order of human rights, then in my view disability is at the bottom.

Had Vinnie Jones not said that Davina McCall "walked like a retard" but had instead used  a cruel epithet for race, religion or sexual orientation, then the producers would have insisted that McCall upbraid Jones and issued an apology to viewers.

Instead they allowed the comments to be followed by a mocking walk and then place the whole show,with "retard" comments intact (but adverts removed) on their Video on Demand channel.

In case anyone doubts the wisdom of my tenacity I want to let you in on a little secret.

In the midst of the fight with C4 and Ofcom's refusals to uphold our complaints I discovered from Frankie Boyle’s Wikipedia page that he was planning a new show, with a rather unusual title.

Said show had reached the point of acquiring a transmission date which means that by the time I found out about it had already gone through several checkpoints. Channel 4 had clearly decided that it had a perfectly acceptable title.

Wikipedia being what it is I wanted to be sure of my facts before raising the issue with Channel 4. So I contacted the Comedy Unit in Glasgow. 
The person I spoke to said it was really exciting and they were just waiting for the date. 

I pressed them for confirmation. They told me that the title was definite. It was going to be called "Deal with this Retard’s".
I remember because they laughed.

So I contacted Channel 4 and Mencap and Louise Wallis who had set up a facebook page with over a 1000 members and everyone else who may have a vested interest in stopping this show title.
 As Frank from The Elfrida Society put it so well, within a couple of days of broadcast "Deal with this retards" would be being used abusively against disabled people on the street.
I’m very happy that eventually common sense and equality prevailed but I’m acutely aware that this isn't the end. Hopefully though it is the beginning of the end.