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BBC to crack down on use of ‘racially insulting language’ after N-word row

Any plans to use ‘racially insulting language’ on BBC news or current affairs shows will now be referred to an executive before a decision is made on whether it is broadcast.

The corporation made the announcement after the controversy about the use of the ‘N-word’ in a recent story.

The BBC was hit with more than 18,500 complaints after social affairs correspondent Fiona Lamdin used the offensive term when quoting the abuse an NHS worker had received in a suspected racist attack in Bristol.

Last weekend, amid huge anger about the report, BBC director-general Tony Hall apologised for the broadcast, after the corporation had initially defended the broadcast.

Now it has emerged that editorial director Kamal Ahmed has written to staff, telling them any racist language on news and current affairs shows should be referred to director of news Fran Unsworth.

It comes as the BBC apologised for ‘any distress’ caused by its decision to broadcast the ‘N-word’ on another programme, which went out just days after the controversial news report. Historian Lucy Worsley used the term on BBC2’s American History’s Biggest Fibs when quoting John Wilkes Booth, the man who assassinated Abraham Lincoln.

The broadcaster said it had ‘listened to audience concerns’ and had ‘re-edited the programme’ on BBC iPlayer.

It added: ‘If we were making this programme today, we would not have included the word.’ The BBC said it was ‘sorry for any distress caused to any of our audience by language included in the programme’.

Referring to the news report about the Bristol attack, Mr Ahmed told staff: ‘We have apologised for the report and for the distress it caused. I have received many emails and other messages from colleagues from across the organisation and wanted to say thank you for being so open and honest with me.’

Mr Ahmed said Mr Hall had said the BBC would strengthen the guidance on offensive language, which was still being worked on, and added: ‘In the meantime, all use of racially insulting language in news and current affairs will be a mandatory referral to the director of news, Fran Unsworth.

‘There are lessons we can draw from this that will help shape our thinking and practice – and it’s important that we hear a full range of views.’

The controversial story ran on local news programme Points West and the BBC News channel at the end of last month.

It reported on the suspected race-hate attack on a 21-year-old NHS worker in Bristol, who was hit by a car and left with a broken leg, nose and cheekbone. He had been walking home after a shift at the city’s Southmead Hospital.

In her report, Miss Lamdin warned viewers that they were about to hear ‘highly offensive language’ before saying: ‘As the men ran away, they hurled racial abuse, calling him a n*****.’ The report received 18,656 complaints.

Lord Hall said last Sunday that the corporation ‘now accepts that we should have taken a different approach at the time of broadcast and we are very sorry for that’.

He added: ‘Every organisation should be able to acknowledge when it has made a mistake. We made one here.’ 

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