Jonathan Ross ‘not in breach’ of broadcasting code over gay adoption joke

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Jonathan Ross did not breach the broadcasting code for comments he made about gay children being adopted, Ofcom has ruled.

In May, exclusively reported that complaints had been received about his Saturday daytime Radio 2 show after he joked that children who appeared to be gay should be adopted before they bring their “partner” home. Ross was referring to male children who might want a Hannah Montana-themed MP3 player.

Listener Karen Mills told us: “How can these people earn such huge sums of public money to come out with this discriminatory rubbish? What would be the message to a young gay man listening to this? Worse still, how might such comments reinforce and support homophobic bullying in the playground?”

Ofcom received 61 complaints from listeners who said his comments were offensive. Shortly after the complaints, the BBC took the decision to pre-record his show.

The ruling said: “The comment was clearly presented as a joke intended to make light of the reactions that some parents may have if their child chooses a toy that is very widely recognised to be designed and marketed for the opposite sex. The humour was therefore based on the absurdity of the scenario and was not intended to cause offence.

“The fact that this comment was intended to be a joke was illustrated further by the reaction from Andy Davies, who was heard laughing. Ofcom therefore considered that the nature of the joke and the tone and manner in which it was presented made clear that it was not intended to be hostile or pejorative towards the gay community in general.”

It continued: “Ofcom took into account that Jonathan Ross is a well known personality, who has an irreverent, challenging and at times risqué humour that is familiar to audiences. Ofcom also recognised that the comment was clearly aimed at an adult audience. Importantly, if children did hear this comment it was unlikely that they would have understood it or its implications. In light of this, Ofcom considered that there was little potential for the comment to be imitated by children, for example in the playground.”

Derek Munn, Stonewall’s director of public affairs, said: “The fact that a comment is light-hearted does not absolve it from perpetuating the stereotypes that lead to homophobic bullying, which is reflected in the 61 separate complaints listeners made.

“Stonewall’s research into homophobic bullying – The Teachers’ Report – has shown that of secondary school teachers who are aware of homophobic bullying in their schools, three in four say pupils who are perceived to be gay are bullied.

“All broadcasters should be sensitive to the damage that light-hearted comments could cause particularly at times when vulnerable young people, or their potential bullies, are listening.”

Last year, Ross was suspended from the BBC for three months after he and Russell Brand left obscene messages on the answerphone of Fawlty Towers actor Andrew Sachs.

Although only two listeners complained to the BBC when the programme was broadcast, 30,000 members of the public complained after the story was picked up by the national media.

Ross is one of the BBC’s best-paid stars. He is thought to be earning £16.9 million for his current three-year deal.