The show has a massive audience worldwide, and Guinness World Records claims it is the most watched factual program in the world. The show has been sold to more than 200 territories worldwide, and has more than 19 million fans across its Facebook pages.
The show’s two-part “Burma Special,” which aired in the U.K. on March 16, contained a segment in which the presenters surveyed a bridge they had constructed over the River Kwai as an Asian man crossed it. Host Jeremy Clarkson then said: “That is a proud moment… but… there’s a slope on it.” Co-presenter Richard Hammond responded: “You’re right. It’s definitely higher on that side.”
Two viewers complained to Ofcom, and on Monday it ruled that the use of the word “slope” was offensive and wasn’t justified by the context, and as such breached U.K. broadcasting rules.
The BBC had claimed that the program “used the word in what the program-makers believed was an inoffensive, humorous play on words, addressed at the build quality of a bridge which the team had constructed and a local Asian man who was crossing it.”
The BBC added that although the program-makers knew that the word could be used to refer to people of Asian origin they believed that such use was “mere slang”.
Ofcom ruled that “the word ‘slope’ is a pejorative racial term which has the potential to be offensive to Asian people specifically, as well as to viewers more generally.”
It added: “Jeremy Clarkson deliberately employed the offensive word to refer to the Asian person crossing the bridge as well as the camber of the bridge.”
Ofcom noted that “this sequence was scripted in advance, and that clear consideration was given at the time of production to using the term ‘slope’ to formulate what the production team intended to be humorous word play around it.
“There was clearly an opportunity both during filming and post-production to research the word and reach a more considered view on whether it was ‘mere slang’ and had the potential to cause offence to viewers.”
It is not the first time that the show has been accused of using racist language.
In one episode, Hammond described Mexicans as “feckless” and “flatulent,” and Clarkson added that they would get no complaints from the Mexican ambassador as he would be sleeping.
In another episode, Clarkson mumbled a racist version of the nursery rhyme Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe in a clip that was not aired, but which was posted online by a U.K. newspaper.
Clarkson later said the BBC would sack him if he made “one more offensive remark, anywhere, at any time.”