Media watchdog scolds LBC over caller who branded Diane Abbott 'a retard'

Posted On: 
12th September 2017

LBC radio has been rapped by the UK's broadcasting watchdog for failing to challenge a listener who branded Diane Abbott “a retard”.

Diane Abbott got into a muddle over police numbers during the general election campaign
PA Images

Ofcom said failing to “explicitly acknowledge the offensive nature of the word could have had the effect of normalising it”. Ms Abbott welcomed the decision.

A caller rang the station just days before the general election in June to offer their two cents about the Shadow Home Secretary’s muddle over police salary figures.

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“She actually sounds, and no disrespect to her on a personal level, but she really sounded thick. She sounded like someone who was completely incapable of putting a sentence together,” they said.

They added: “I don’t hate her, I don’t like her, I honestly have no personal opinion about her.

“But I have just listened to her and I just think ‘oh God, not only does she not have the figures - and that’s fine, just say you don’t have them - but at the same time, why would you sound like a retard?’”

Presenter Ian Payne responded: “I just think she sounded like someone who’d done ten interviews that morning and it was only ten o’ clock”.

But Ofcom said although the word had not been “intended as an offensive comment towards a person with disabilities” it was still not justified.

In a report the watchdog argued: “Mitigation to the offence could have been achieved to some degree by the presenter picking up on the use of the word and condemning this immediately.

“However, in this case the presenter did not appear to recognise the potential for offence caused by this language.”

It added: “The caller used the word on two separate occasions and the challenge made by the presenter related only to the criticism of Diane Abbott; there was no specific challenge relating to the offensive language.

“We were concerned that the failure to explicitly acknowledge the offensive nature of the word could have had the effect of normalising it.”

LBC argued that the presenter had challenged the caller’s argument and that the word was not intended to offend anyone with disabilities and had come came unexpectedly during a live show.

The station concluded that “regardless of context, or intention to cause offence, as a general policy at LBC we prefer to discourage callers from using such language.

“We will ask that presenters challenge the use more robustly in future and offer apologies where appropriate.” 


Ms Abbott told PoliticsHome: "I'm pleased to see that Ofcom have taken action.

"For far too long the media have been allowed to normalise and perpetuate this type of language and rhetoric, which can often lead to further abuse of the individual in question."

A recent study found Ms Abbott received ten times as much abuse as any other MP in the run up to the June general election.