Before I share my latest letter to the BBC regarding the TOP GEAR Mexican controversy, let me try to summarize where this is all at right now:
- It all started with this.
- This segment appeared on YOUTUBE. But once the BBC started to get complaints at a rate of 1,000 per minute, it blocked it from YOUTUBE, citing copyright issues.
- I took the movie file from YOUTUBE and posted it on my site (FYI: The software out there is free and so easy to use). It continued to get steady traffic from all over the world. In the meantime, the co-hosts Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond issued strange “apologies,” while fellow co-host James May reportedly got nutty on a place from Dallas to London.
- After the BBC sent me a form letter to my first complaint, I followed up with another one. In the meantime, a Mexican Manchester United star did a brilliant ad campaign to send a powerful message, a former prime minister of Britain spoke against the TOP GEAR, and so did the former head of the BBC.
- I received a more personal letter this time from a TOP GEAR producer, who basically told me that I was being a bit crazy about all this and that if indeed I thought that TOP GEAR did breach the network’s Editorial Guidelines, I could write another email to the Complaints Department.
Well, here is my email which I just sent to the BBC Complaints Department today:
TO: Editorial Complaints Unit
201 Wood Lane
FROM: Julio Ricardo Varela
TOWN STATE ZIP
I write to express my sincere disappointment in how the BBC handled the now infamous TOP GEAR Mexican segment, where the three hosts of the show, in the name of “parody” and “humour,” created much offense to Mexicans and US Latinos. Unfortunately, I do not accept the response by the show’s producers as appropriate. I am asking that co-hosts Jerry Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May use their massive broadcasting influence and bully pulpit to sincerely acknowledge their lack of wit and humor in the aforementioned segment.
Having reviewed your Editorial Guidelines, I would like to call attention to a few guidelines that I believe were breached by the producers and co-hosts of TOP GEAR:
Section 19: Accountability
19.1.1 The BBC is accountable to its audiences. Their continuing trust in the BBC is a crucial part of our relationship with them. We will act in good faith by dealing fairly and openly with them.
19.1.2 We are open in acknowledging mistakes when they are made and encourage a culture of willingness to learn from them.
Section 5: Harm and Offence
The BBC aims to reflect the world as it is, including all aspects of the human experience and the realities of the natural world. In doing so, we balance our right to broadcast innovative and challenging content, appropriate to each of our services, with our responsibility to protect the vulnerable and avoid unjustifiable offence.
Creative risk-taking is a vital part of the BBC’s mission. However, in all our output, the greater the risk, the greater the thought, care and planning required to bring creative content to fruition. We must be sensitive to, and keep in touch with, generally accepted standards as well as our audiences’ expectations of our content, particularly in relation to the protection of children. Audience expectations of our content usually vary according to the service on which it appears.
When our content includes challenging material that risks offending some of our audience we must always be able to demonstrate a clear editorial purpose, taking account of generally accepted standards, and ensure it is clearly signposted. Such challenging material may include, but is not limited to, strong language, violence, sex, sexual violence, humiliation, distress, violation of human dignity, and discriminatory treatment or language.
5.4.1 We should judge the suitability of content for our audiences, including children, in relation to the expectations of the likely audience, taking account of the time and day on which it is available, the nature of the service and the nature of the content. The following questions can help determine whether content will be within the expectations of the audience:
What is the likely composition of the audience, including the likely number and age range of children in the audience taking account of school time, weekends and holidays? (We should be aware that school holidays are different in different parts of the UK.)
- Does the talent, slot, title, genre or service carry pre-existing expectations that may be challenged by the content?
- Has any difficult or challenging content been clearly signposted?
- Are there any special sensitivities surrounding the slot, for example religious festivals or anniversaries of major events?
- What is the likely “pull-through audience” (that is, what is the nature of the preceding content and what kind of audience is it likely to attract)?
In my opinion, it is clear that TOP GEAR breached these guidelines. What you say is “parody,” I think is just weak and lazy comedy that lacks intelligence and perpetuates tired and old stereotypes. Statements by your former CEO and former PM Tony Blair would confirm that I am not the only who thinks that TOP GEAR was wrong in broadcasting this offensive segment.
Here is the central point of the argument: you as a company want to global. Once you do that, you actually start broadcasting outside a UK audience, and must follow different audience expectations.
You cannot promote shows globally, profit from them, and then expect to hide behind a very weak and flimsy “lads will be lads” argument. In addition, once the segment was made public on YouTube, all bets were off. Your audience can comment and criticize. And when you BLOCKED the video, you were in fact telling people that they could not comment or share the content with others.
Social media empowers people to do so, and quite frankly, your lack of respect to these comments clearly shows that the BBC, when it comes to TOP GEAR, does not practice what it preaches. It is very likely that in the eyes of the BBC has set two double standards: wildly popular shows like TOP GEAR don’t even get a slap on the wrist, while other less popular shows could be chastised formally for a breach of guidelines. That is how I see it.
TOP GEAR had other options:
- Actually use comedy and parody with intelligence and wit, similar to shows like THE DAILY SHOW, THE COLBERT SHOW and others that poke fun at stereotypes with CONTEMPORARY perspectives and not ones that are still stuck in the 1950s and 2) Actually HAD fun with the controversy. Instead, Clarkson’s racist rant in The Sun made it worse, Hammond’s “apology” was a bit more sincere in nature yet lacked a true understanding as to why this segment was offensive to Mexicans and US Latinos, and May didn’t even comment to issue an apology. Why couldn’t the producers have addressed the backlash with real humor? Like bringing in the Mexican ambassador to the show or better, invite Chicharito from Manchester United and act out a public apology on television.
- That would have lessened the sting thousands and thousands of Mexicans and US Latinos felt when seeing the segment. But, that would take a different kind of thinking from your company. Instead of directly engaging your brand with these groups, you followed a very traditional response method that no longer applies to the current age of social media and digital content.
Julio Ricardo Varela