BBC undecided over whether to fire Jeremy Clarkson over 'N-word'

Controversy over Top Gear presenter's use of racist epithet continues, with BBC waiting to see public response to apology

Jeremy Clarkson's fate at the BBC is still undecided, with the corporation monitoring public reaction after the Top Gear host was forced to apologise for using the N-word during an outtake.

The BBC has not yet said if he will appear on the next series, and executives want to see how diversity campaigners such as the comedian Lenny Henry and Homeland actor David Harewood respond.

On Friday, Henry declined to comment on the row, but Labour's deputy leader, Harriet Harman, tweeted: "Anybody who uses the N-word in public or private in whatever context has no place in the BBC."

Her intervention came after Simone Pennant – a leading figure behind Henry's campaign to boost the number of black, Asian and ethnic-minority workers in TV – condemned Clarkson.

Pennant, founder of the TV Collective, which helps run Henry's campaign, said such incidents would keep happening unless the BBC hired more black and Asian staff on Top Gear and other shows.

"Clarkson's wholly inappropriate use of the N-word is an example of what happens when there are so few black and Asian people working in the industry," said Pennant, who has worked on BBC3 and Channel 4 shows.

Clarkson was forced to apologise on Thursday night, when he asked viewers for forgiveness following the revelation of a clip of him reciting the nursery rhyme "Eeny, meeny, miny, moe; catch a nigger by the toe" in unaired footage obtained by the Daily Mirror.

Pennant said Clarkson's apology did not address the diversity problem at the BBC. "I just don't think he would have used that word if there were a number of black and Asian producers or directors on Top Gear," she said. "What this reveals to TV Collective's members is that, as long as the industry is not truly serious about diversity, these incidents will keep happening."

But there was support for Clarkson from the education secretary, Michael Gove, who urged the BBC not to sack him for using the term "in error" during filming. Asked if he backed calls for Clarkson to be axed, Gove told ITV's Good Morning Britain: "No, I don't. The word in question is horrendous and shouldn't be used but I have read Jeremy Clarkson's account in the papers today, his explanation, and it seems to me that this was a word that he never intended to utter, never intended to broadcast. He has been clear in his apology and I think we should leave matters there."

It emerged on Friday that Clarkson had been reprimanded after being summoned to the corporation's New Broadcasting House HQ on Thursday for a meeting with the director general, Tony Hall, and Danny Cohen, the BBC's director of television.

Cohen has been behind moves to try to make the BBC more diverse, and he and Hall have previously spoken to Henry about his proposals for increased minority representation in the TV industry.

But, with Top Gear earning a vast amount of money for the BBC, the corporation has an incentive to keep Clarkson on the show if he can survive the fallout from his comments.

It also emerged on Friday that lawyers are planning to write to Barack Obama and the ambassadors of every country in which Top Gear is aired asking them if the BBC motoring series should continue to be broadcast.

Lawrence Davies, director of the law firm Equal Justice, branded Top Gear as "racist" and told MediaGuardian his firm did not accept the apology Clarkson had made.

Davies said: "We are to write to every ambassador and the US president next week asking them to consider the evidence and then to decide if this racist show should be broadcast in their country in future."

The Clarkson case is more complex because the word was not broadcast. Therefore it does not breach the BBC's editorial guidelines (which states that the word is, "potentially extremely offensive") or the regulator Ofcom's code.


Tara Conlan

The GuardianTramp

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