Chris Eakin had been discussing on air a story about a chimp at a zoo in Sweden which collects stones to throw at visitors.Something Eakin had clearly forgotten, and so therefore included Alagiah in the usual banter between presenters, something he might have done to any colleague, say, perhaps one with sticky-out ears, or hairy arms.
He then asked: 'Can you see any likeness?' before handing back to 53-year-old Mr Alagiah, who is of Tamil descent.
And isn’t that what we should be aiming for? That race is no bar and is forgotten, as we all treat people equally, and tease them or banter with them as we would any other colleagues?
Sadly, that used to be the plan, before the race baiters and professionally aggrieved got involved:
The newsreader looked surprised by the remark before he tried to laugh off the attempted joke which followed a review of the newspapers at the end of a ten o'clock bulletin on the BBC News channel.In other words, by people whose job demands that they have an opinion on this, irrespective of what Eakins meant, or how Alagiah might have felt…
But Mr Eakin's quip - just over a month after Carol Thatcher was axed from a BBC show after referring offair to a black tennis player as a 'golliwog' - was criticised by a race equality spokesman and by the head of a media pressure group.
John Beyer, director of Mediawatch UK, said: 'I think this clearly points to the fact that people have to be careful what they say’.No, it doesn’t. And no, they do not.
TUC race equality officer Wilf Sullivan added: 'Even if it was a light-hearted piece this is supposed to be a serious news programme. Because there is this anti-political correctness thing going on at the moment people seem to have got the idea they can say or do anything.People should be able to say ‘anything’ (provided it does not fall within the ‘inciting violence’ category or break broadcasting guidelines).
'If he was doing it in a way to refer to George then it would be a bit out of order.'
And this is rightly not considered a gripping issue across the nation – yet. Though I’m sure if the likes of Wilf and John get their way, it’ll be the new ‘Gollygate’:
The BBC said it had received only one complaint about the comment which aired at 10.25pm on Monday.You might think it odd that they haven’t received three, mightn’t you?
That’s because the likes of Wilf and John don’t write letters to the BBC, it wouldn’t get them what they crave – publicity and a chance to advance their cause, that of being paid to police language on behalf of everyone else.
Mr Eakin said: 'This was a light-hearted comment with absolutely no other intended overtones and I know that George did not interpret it as anything other than that.Nicely done, Mr Eakin. You could have left off the ‘regret if I have unintentionally caused offence’ bit and pointed out that you are not responsible for people purposely misinterpreting your words, though.
'George and I are old friends and I would be horrified if anyone has interpreted this in any other way and I regret if I have unintentionally caused any offence.'
But you are ill-served by your ‘old friend’:
Mr Alagiah said: 'Chris Eakin has spoken to me privately and I have accepted his apology.Why did you accept his apology, George? What did he have to apologise for?
'He fell into one of those pitfalls of live TV - the banter that goes horribly wrong. I think it was unfortunate and inappropriate and I can see why it may have troubled some people watching the programme.'
And why do you concern yourself with the people who claim to be ‘troubled’ by the remark? Surely you are not so dumb as to think their feigned outrage is genuine?
But then, George is toeing the company line, rather than supporting his ‘old friend’:
A BBC spokesman said: 'It was an inappropriate remark that shouldn't have been made. We have accepted the explanation given by Chris and he has reassured us that it will not happen again.Congratulations, BBC News. You’ve now placed yourself squarely in the hands of the hostage takers.
'We are very clear presenters should not make remarks that could be misinterpreted and BBC News apologises for any offence that may have been caused.'
How, in the name of God, are presenters supposed to ensure that they ‘do not make remarks that could be misinterpreted’ when there are people out there whose sole job and reason to get up in the morning is to misinterpret things for publicity and political gain…?
This subject has been touched on recently across the pond over political commentator Rush Limburgh’s comments over Obama, sparking an all-out blogger’s war, and uberblogger Jeff Goldstein at ‘protein wisdom’ has been leading the charge to take possession of the intent of a statement back from those who would gleefully misinterpret it for their own ends, and place it firmly in the hands of the person who made it in the first place.
In this post he accurately sums up the situation:
“Because make no mistake: the current view of how speech and interpretation works necessarily results in meaning being nothing more than a function of power.”Wilf and John have been allowed to wield that power, abetted by the media and the likes of George Alagiah, who go along with the ‘offence’ line without heed to the damage they cause.
Chris Eakin needs to pick better ‘friends’ in future…