BBC Radio 4 rapped over 'cox sackers' on-air comment

Listener complained that email read out during afternoon show contained 'grossly offensive' play on words

It was intended as a jokey play on words but when Radio 4 afternoon show Thinking Allowed used the words "cox sackers" on air it was deemed too close to the bone by the BBC Trust.

The discussion programme hosted by Laurie Taylor read out the phrase in a listener's email in response to an item in the previous week's programme about the sacking of a cox from a rowing team.

But one listener described it as a "grossly offensive play on words" and complained to the BBC Trust after their complaint was twice rejected by corporation management.

The trust's editorial complaints unit agreed, saying the phrase was "not articulated clearly enough and could easily have been misheard for the offensive word 'cocksuckers' by the majority of the audience".

It said it was "highly likely to have been misheard by a significant part of the audience as 'cocksuckers'", many of whom might have been children because it was broadcast at 4.15pm when parents were doing the school run.

The BBC had originally sought to defend the broadcast on 25 April last year.

In it, a listener's email was read out thanking the programme for its "insight into the social dynamics of the Cambridge boat race crew ... Heavens to Betsy, what a bunch of cox sackers".

The corporation's editorial complaints unit described it as "light hearted and hilarious" and Radio 4 as an "essentially adult radio channel" which "tailored its output accordingly".

It said the joke required a "degree of sexual knowledge to understand the pun being made" and would have been "completely lost on any young children".

But the trust disagreed, saying that many listeners would have mistaken it for a "seriously offensive word" and ruled it a breach of the BBC's broadcasting guidelines. It will not feature in any future repeat of the Thinking Allowed episode.

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John Plunkett

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