UK's Wright Stuff comments about Liam Aitchison murder 'resolved', Ofcom concludes

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The remarks were broadcast on Channel Five.

UK media regulator Ofcom has stated that remarks made on Channel 5 programme The Wright Stuff on December 6 last year in relation to the murder of Liam Aitchison were "clearly capable of causing offence". However, the issue has been "resolved", the regulator concluded in its latest broadcast bulletin.

Ofcom launched an investigation in relation to a potential breach of rule 2.3 of its Broadcasting Code, which reads: "In applying generally accepted standards broadcasters must ensure that material which may cause offence is justified by the context". Presenter Matthew Wright employed a false Scottish accent and remarked: "There's been another murder," in reference to the UK crime drama Taggart, as the murder was being discussed as part of a newspaper review. At this point, audience laughter could be heard. Charlie Baker, who was sat on the panel, responded by saying it would be "[t]he longest episode of Taggart of all time" with "lots of down-time in between", citing the time period of approximately forty years since the last murder investigation on the Western Isles.

No apology was broadcast at any point during the programme. Ofcom subsequently received at least 2,220 complaints about the incident. The regulator stated that, with his comments, Wright "made light of the murder" and "went on to laugh loudly with the audience as the conversation continued", appearing to illustrate "no regard to the unfortunate circumstances of this murder case concerning the killing of a 16 year old well known to many within the local community in which he lived." Channel 5 would later acknowledge that these remarks were "unfortunate, misjudged and entirely inappropriate". A page on the social networking website Facebook, entitled 'Report The Wright Stuff to Ofcom', accumulated in excess of 2,500 likes.

In the next edition of the show the following day, Wright apologised, saying it was "certainly no intention on my part to belittle the seriousness or tragedy of the story, or to offend anyone who knew Liam" but remarked that he was "[n]ot helped though by people running campaigns - 'report Matthew Wright to Ofcom'. I mean, grow up, folks". Ofcom said these comments would have "potentially caused further offence to viewers". Channel 5 went on to retract access to this edition and the edition from the day before from Demand 5, its Internet catch up service.

On the December 8 programme, Wright apologised again. "I deeply, deeply regret my thoughtless comments," Wright said, "and very sincerely apologise to Liam's family and his community. I truly apologise OK, from the bottom of my heart if I have made their suffering worse. I should add that Charlie Baker also wishes to apologise unreservedly". The Aitchison family subsequently accepted a direct apology issued to them by Wright.

As a result of this incident, Channel 5 decided to re-examine the compliance and editorial rules set between Channel 5 and The Wright Stuff's production company. Channel 5 also committed the major production team members of The Wright Stuff to learning about compliance in greater detail.

Ofcom was of the opinion that "these comments were clearly capable of causing offence to viewers given the sensitivity surrounding the very recent murder of a 16 year old teenager in an isolated Scottish community." However, "[o]n balance, and in light of the steps taken by Channel 5 to mitigate this offence, Ofcom considered the matter resolved." The regulator does not intend to take any further action over this incident. A recent status update from 'Report The Wright Stuff to Ofcom' clarified its administrator's intention to remove the page on Thursday.


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