‘Transphobic’ comment on Channel 5’s Wright Stuff ‘breached standards’, Ofcom says

Broadcast regulator Ofcom says that a ‘transphobic’ jibe on Channel 5’s The Wright Stuff breached standards – but ruled the incident has since been resolved.

The offending comments happened during live on-air spat between transgender columnist Paris Lees and The Chase star Anne Hegarty on the March 15 edition of the show.

In a debate about the gender pay gap, Lees had claimed there was an “old boy’s club at the top” of politics – before Hegarty shot back: “Well, you used to be a boy, you’d know that.”

There were a few seconds of stunned silence before host Matthew Wright attempted to move on the show  to another subject without referencing the comments.

No on-air apology was issued during the broadcast, but a later episode of the show did include an eventual apology read out by guest host Anne Diamond.

Regulator Ofcom published a report into the incident on Monday (June 4) after several complaints, finding the show had breached standards.

The Wright Stuff (Channel 5)

The report explains: “Channel 5 accepted that the remark was capable of causing unacceptable harm and offence. It added that as The Wright Stuff is a live broadcast, Ms Hegerty’s remarks were ‘wholly unexpected’.

“The Licensee said that ‘very shortly after the incident occurred’ the programme went to an advertising break and during this time the production team spoke to Paris Lees who ‘reassured them that she was not offended by the remark and she required no apology’.

“Simultaneously, the production team notified Channel 5 and the Licensee requested that the well-being of Ms Lees should be checked and that there should be ‘an apology for the unacceptable on-air remark by Ms Hegerty.’

“However, the Licensee said that Ms Lees did not want any ‘fuss or apology’ and no on-air apology was made during the live broadcast on 15 March 2018.”

It continues: “When Channel 5 was advised that no on air-apology had been broadcast, it immediately advised the production team that this was ‘not acceptable.’

“Channel 5 said that Ms Hegerty’s remark had ‘the capacity to cause clear harm and offence to the viewing public because it sought to misgender Ms Lees as part of an effort to dismiss her opinion.’

“Therefore, the Licensee instructed the production team to ensure [an] ‘unequivocal apology’ was broadcast the next day by guest presenter Anne Diamond.”

Paris Lees (BBC)

“Further, the presenter has been reminded to intervene in any similar matter ‘regardless of the view of the person about whom an offensive remark has been made.’

“The Licensee said that a mandatory policy about intervention in such circumstances had been adopted and would be enforced. Channel 5 said it was confident that if a similar remark were to be made in the future, it would be dealt with ‘clearly and decisively.'”

Ofcom added: “The Code requires that generally accepted standards are applied so as to provide adequate protection for members of the public from the inclusion of harmful or offensive material.

“We considered whether the comment made by Anne Hegerty to Paris Lees was potentially offensive.

“In our view, Anne Hegerty deliberately chose to misgender Ms Lees to belittle her and undermine the contribution she had made to the debate. We considered that the likely intention of the comment was to portray a transgender person in a negative and derogatory way.”

It added: “We also took into account that despite Ms Lees’ request for no apology, Channel 5 acknowledged that the comment had the capacity ‘to cause clear harm and offence’ to viewers and decided to broadcast a full apology on the programme the following day.

“We have also considered the steps taken by Channel 5 to ensure any similar remarks are responded to promptly in future with the introduction of a ‘mandatory policy’ which requires the presenter to intervene regardless of the attitude of the affected person.”

Matthew Wright (Channel 5)

However Ofcom decided not to take any action, saying: “Given the various steps taken by the Licensee in this case, our Decision is that this matter is resolved.”

Lees previously spoke of her shock at the remark from Hegarty.

She said: “The whole studio – the audience fell silent. I don’t think anyone knew what to say. You could have cut the atmosphere with a knife.

“I was so shocked, I was processing it.”

She added: “I didn’t make a big deal out of it. I love the show and Matthew, and I’m sure she didn’t mean to be malicious.

“I didn’t say anything backstage, but everyone else came and checked I was OK.

“I’m not easily shaken, I’ve had worse in my time, but when you’re on TV, you don’t expect it.”

It is alleged that the incident caused significant behind-the-scenes drama on the show.

The show’s host Matthew Wright, who recently announced he is quitting the show after 18 years, has denied reports that he defied production staff and refused to read an on-air apology, leading to guest presenter Anne Diamond having to do so.

The Daily Mail had claimed “tensions reached boiling point” following the dispute, leading to Wright’s departure.

A representative for the host said: “That story is not true and is pure speculation.”