'Have them all shot': BBC gets 21,000+ complaints over Jeremy Clarkson's public sector striker comments

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Saturday, December 3, 2011

In the United Kingdom, the BBC has received in excess of twenty-one thousand complaints after Jeremy Clarkson, the presenter of BBC television programme Top Gear, made an appearance on the live BBC programme The One Show and made comments about the UK public sector workers on strike, which British trade union UNISON subsequently called "appalling". The BBC and Jeremy Clarkson both apologised after the comments were made.

Jeremy Clarkson in 2008.
Image: Tony Harrison.

During the programme, Clarkson commented on how the strikes on Wednesday were "fantastic" as they had left the British capital London "empty". It was "like being back in the 70s", according to Clarkson. He went on to caution that "we have to balance this though, because this is the BBC" before saying of the striking public sector workers: "Frankly, I'd have them all shot. I would take them outside and execute them in front of their families. I mean, how dare they go on strike when they have these gilt-edged pensions that are going to be guaranteed while the rest of us have to work for a living?" Immediately after the remarks were made, The One Show presenters clarified that these comments was personal opinion, to which Clarkson replied: "They're not. I've just given two views for you." Presenter Matt Baker apologised about the comments before the end of the broadcast.

In the aftermath of the broadcast, by yesterday morning BBC Audience Services were contacted in relation to the matter 21,954 times, with 619 comments and 21,335 complaints amongst them. Clarkson was supported in 314 messages. A spokesperson for the BBC confirmed that the The One Show episode would not be made available to view on BBC iPlayer, the BBC's on-demand service, because the episode generated so many complaints.

The British prime minister described the comments as "silly", while saying he was certain that Clarkson "didn't mean it". According to The Guardian, Clarkson had reportedly spoken with the production team before the live broadcast about using strike-related humor.

What do you make of Clarkson's comments?

Thursday, the BBC apologised for the comments, as "the item was not perfectly judged", the corporation admitted. In a statement the same day, Clarkson said: "I didn't for a moment intend these remarks to be taken seriously – as I believe is clear if they're seen in context. If the BBC and I have caused any offence, I'm quite happy to apologise for it alongside them." The presenter also clarified to British newspaper the Daily Mirror: "I expressed two different views. Which one do I apologise for? I am just making fun of the BBC's need to be impartial. Not about strikers. I wasn't saying that strikers should be shot."

UNISON, a trade union in the United Kingdom, called the comments "appalling" and initially wished for the BBC to remove Clarkson from his position. Karen Jennings, the deputy general secretary of the UNISON, subsequently told the BBC that the trade union "accepted the apology" before going on to say: "He's recognised that he went too far in saying what he said and what we're doing now is extending our hand to him to come and work with a healthcare assistant to see just how they work and the healthcare they deliver. I think he would enjoy that."

2011 UK public sector strikes on Wikipedia.