Not satisfied with the response to a complaint that I had made at the beginning of April regarding two sexist comments that Ken Bruce had made at the beginning of his BBC Radio 2 show on 2 April, I have written back to the BBC and am sharing this story with you. What we say DOES matter, and we need to speak out against what we think is wrong. As a Druid, I take speech quite seriously (when I’m not being The Fool, but there is method in my madness there as well – indeed, a good friend of mine this weekend said that I am one of the most intelligent people she knows, and also the silliest – but I digress…)
What happened was that I wrote in to BBC Radio 2 because Ken Bruce had called Lynne Bowles a “whale” (in jest) and in the next breath said something about her putting on a French maid’s uniform. Many people would say that taking this out of context is making it appear worse than it actually is. What I am saying is that the context of sexism doesn’t matter – it’s still sexism. Ways to undermine women’s power in our society is becoming more and insidious where it cannot be achieved through brute force. Here is the correspondence that I have received back from my complaint, and my further response.
I am putting this here on my blog as well as my Facebook page. My original post in which I tagged the BBC has mysteriously disappeared from my Facebook timeline. It is my intention to make this public, and whether it is simply a Facebook error or a more targeted silencing, I shall never know – what I do know is that they cannot touch this blog.
UPDATE 24.04.13: BBC’S MOST RECENT RESPONSE BELOW. Am trying not to bang my head against the desk…
Dear Ms van der Hoeven
Thanks for contacting us regarding Ken Bruce on BBC Radio 2.
We note you were unhappy with the manner in which Ken started his 2 April programme. You felt he made demeaning remarks about Lynn Bowles.
We appreciate your concerns. Ken, as a highly experienced broadcaster, is well aware of the boundaries of acceptability. The changeover with Chris Evans and his programme team was clearly intended as light-hearted banter between professionals who are well used to working with each other and treating each other with respect. We regret the dialogue didn’t meet with your approval on this occasion and we hope you otherwise enjoyed the rest of Ken’s programme.
We’d assure you your concerns have been registered on our audience log, which is a daily report of audience feedback that’s made available to many BBC staff, including members of the BBC Executive Board, channel controllers and other senior managers.
The audience logs are seen as important documents that can help shape decisions about future programming and content.
Thanks again for taking the trouble to contact us.
Dear Ms Fortucci,
I am writing in response to your reply to my complaint made last week.
I am not as certain as you or the BBC are of Ken Bruce’s awareness of the levels of acceptability regarding boundaries – simply because he has had years of experience does not mean that what he says and does is always acceptable acceptable.
Sexism can be a very insidious creature in our society, and sexism, even in the form of “light-hearted banter” is wholly unacceptable. Should we allow bullying and racisim if it is all in the name of good fun? I think not. I don’t think the BBC are taking this issue seriously enough. While I have enjoyed Ken Bruce’s programmes in the past, I really do hope that these words and sentiment are actually taken seriously by the programmer himself, and not simply fobbed off as a registered complaint that no one will see because they are not required to look at all the feedback when it comes to programming. Issues like these have been swept under our society’s carpet for years.
For me personally, sexism and sexist words are never acceptable, and I shall speak out against them whenever I experience them. Sadly, this is still too often even in our so-called “modern and liberated society”. I feel that our liberties may be taken away should sexist comments continue to be made in any fashion, whether spoken in anger or in jest, for the very nature of sexism is to undermine a woman’s personal power, and can be done in a myriad of ways that are “acceptable”.
Joanna van der Hoeven
Dear Ms van der Hoeven
Thanks for contacting us again regarding Ken Bruce’s comments at the beginning of his show on 2 April.
We’re sorry to read you were dissatisfied with the previous response. As such we forwarded your complaint to the programme makers who would like to apologise for any offence caused to you; however regular listeners to Ken’s show will regularly hear endearing banter between Ken and Lynn Bowles about each other for pure entertainment and are in no way deliberate attempts to be sexist.
At this stage however, if you believe a serious and specific breach of the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines has occurred with this programme and you wish to pursue this complaint further you can contact the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit (ECU), within 20 working days, and they will carry out an independent investigation.
You can e-mail them at email@example.com or alternatively write to them at the below address quoting the following case number CAS-2658696-YB869Z:
BBC Editorial Complaints Unit
201 Wood Lane
Dear Mr Martin,
Would I be endearing myself to you if I called you a whale? I’m not trying to be deliberately sexist, but how about you go and put on a French maid’s uniform for me?
The issue isn’t whether or not it is deliberate – deliberate or not doesn’t make it right, or acceptable. I find it appalling that the BBC feel this way.
Joanna van der Hoeven
Dear Madam/Sir of the Editorial Complaints Unit at the BBC,
I began this complaint with regards to remarks made by Ken Bruce. What I would now like to complain about is the complacency within BBC that allows sexist and demeaning comments to be made under the pretense of “endearing banter”.
Both responses I have had from the BBC have brushed this off under the carpet of “enterntainment”. There is nothing funny about derogatory remarks or sexism. Only when we see that, when we break free from accepting these abuses under the guise of comedy and entertainment will we actually be able to move forward as a species.
These remarks may not have been made deliberatly by the presenter, Ken Bruce. However, that doesn’t make it right, or absolve it in any way. People need to be made aware when they are crossing the lines, either what would be the point of having any lines in the first place? People in the media have an especial responsibility to choose their words carefully. I only hope that what I am saying will be taken seriously by someone, and that more thought will be behind the words of BBC radio two presenters such as Ken Bruce.
Joanna van der Hoeven
Well done. Like you, I am heartily sick of the ‘humour’ and ‘banter’ excuses for sexism. It’s so important to challenge over this and to point out that those same excuses are not tolerated for racism. Unless we tackle casual verbal abuse we’ve not got much chance of truly challenging the violence and discrimination that so many women are subject to.
Yes – that’s precisely the term I was looking for – casual verbal abuse. It’s rampant in our society. Whether it’s done in ignorance or not, it’s wholly unacceptable.
*applauds* well said Joanna, I think such comments are despicable and should definitely be addressed in public. We need more women to speak out against this sort of nonsense, it’s a lot harder to silence a thousand voices.
What bothers me the most is how it’s brushed over – words needs to be taken seriously, especially when used in the media. When you go to BBC complaints page, there’s the most recent “large” complaints posted, such as for whatever stupidity Jeremy Clarkson has said lately on Top Gear.Other remarks like this often fall to the wayside. I look forward to what BBC have to say regarding my remarks upon the reply I have had, however, I am not holding my breath. Still, I will keep fighting the good fight! x