SOME imbecile working for Channel 4 TV thought that viewers would choke on their Sunday lunch if they were to hear the word “gay”.
So the “compliant checker” – newspeak for censor – editing the word out of a weekend repeat of The Simpsons. The line was cut from a 1994 episode, called Homer Loves Flanders, which was aired at 12.55pm on Sunday.
The broadcaster has now admitted it made a mistake. A spokesman said:
We always carefully consider the context in which language is used in our programming. However in this instance the episode was edited in error as neither the word nor the context was unsuitable.
In the episode, Homer goes to an American Football match with Ned Flanders but at first is embarrassed to be seen with his god-fearing neighbour. The pair bond after Ned buys a mountain of food and introduces Homer to the star quarterback.
As they drive away, they pass workmates Lenny and Carl in the car park. Homer proudly yells out of the window:
I want everyone to know that this is Ned Flanders ... my friend!
In the original episode, Lenny turns to Carl and says: “What'd he say?” Carl replies: “I dunno. Somethin’ about being gay.”
The line plays on the homosexual under-current to Lenny and Carl’s relationship, a long-running Simpsons joke.
However in the Sunday version, Carl’s line was edited out, and the episode abruptly cut to adverts after Lenny said: “What’d he say?”
Channel 4 said that Simpsons episodes broadcast before 6pm are checked by its compliance department for any unsuitable content. In this instance, the compliance checker had been overly-cautious.
Ofcom, the broadcasting regulator, says there is no evidence to conclude that use of the word “gay” is:
Necessarily and automatically intended to be, or is, offensive.
A sheriff in Scotland came to the same conclusion at the end of a court case in which painter and decorator George Cowan, who is heterosexual, had taken printing boss Mark Bennett to court in a £10,000 action after accusing his former friend of trying to blacken his name by branding him gay.
However, sheriff Kenneth McGowan founds that Cowan's reputation had not been damaged by the remarks.
Times have moved on. Homosexuality is not illegal. On the contrary, the rights of homosexuals are widely protected by the law. There are many people in public life in Scotland and the UK who are openly homosexual. Looked at in that way, it is difficult to see how an imputation of homosexuality could be defamatory.
There was no evidence that the defender's characterisation of the pursuer was taken seriously by those who heard it. By this I mean that they did not take from the defender's comments that the pursuer was, in fact, homosexual.
Mr Bennett, 47, of Dunfermline, Fife, told of his delight at the outcome.
I am very happy I have won and I'm not surprised.
Mr Bennett, who used to be a stand-up comedian, insisted his remarks were just "banter" and he didn't mean to cause offence.