BBC TV Chief Claims 'Top Gear' Host Not Racist Despite 'N-Word' Footage
But Danny Cohen says there have been some "significant issues" regarding the show, and he and Jeremy Clarkson "disagree on the language some have recently found very offensive."
LONDON – The head of BBC TV has spoken out over renewed claims that the veteran host of its flagship motoring show Top Gear, Jeremy Clarkson, is a racist.
On Tuesday it was revealed that BBC TV chief Danny Cohen had ordered an internal investigation following leaked footage in May that appeared to show Clarkson saying the N-word. The U.K. media regulator Ofcom last week also ruled that Clarkson had "deliberately" used a racially offensive term in an episode of the show filmed in Burma that aired in March.
But in a letter to The Guardian, Cohen said that while there had been some "significant issues" regarding the show that had forced him to instigate the “health check” that was reported Tuesday, he didn’t accept the accusations leveled at Top Gear's host.
"While Jeremy [Clarkson] and I disagree on the language some have recently found very offensive, I do not think he or anyone on the Top Gear team are racist," he said.
"Top Gear is an extraordinary television program, loved by millions of viewers around the world. I want Top Gear to maintain its unique take on the world, but controversies of this nature would serve no one well," he added.
Following the N-word incident, Clarkson was issued a final warning by the BBC. Having initially denied saying the word, the 53-year-old later created a video message in which he said he was "mortified" by the upset caused and "begged forgiveness."
Clarkson and his Top Gear presenters have been accused of being racist several times in recent years, having made derogatory comments about Germany, Romania and Mexico on the show.
The Mexican ambassador to the U.K. received an apology from the BBC in 2011 after presenter Richard Hammond commented that "Cars reflect national characteristics … a Mexican car's just going to be a lazy, feckless, flatulent oaf with a mustache, leaning against a fence asleep, looking at a cactus with a blanket with a hole in the middle on as a coat."
Comedian and actor Steve Coogan, a regular on the program, later spoke out against Top Gear’s "casual racism," describing the comments as being "as funny as a cold sweat followed by shooting pains down the left arm."
Clarkson, who took home more than $23 million for his work on Top Gear last year, was the subject of 21,000 complaints to the BBC in 2011 after joking that striking public sector workers should be executed "in front of their families."