Ronn Torossian
Ronn Torossian

The BBC is apologizing after an uncensored racial slur went out over the air. During a segment covering the story of a racially-motivated assault, BBC social affairs correspondent Fiona Lamdin used the “n-word” while reporting on the incident. This sparked more than 18,000 complaints from viewers who were incensed that the reporter uttered this word live on the air.

After initially defending the choice in the context of editorial ethics, BBC leadership changed direction. Tony Hall, director general of the public service broadcaster, apologized to his staff, saying, “(This) created distress amongst many people … The BBC now accepts that we should have taken a different approach at the time of the broadcast, and we are very sorry … We will now be strengthening our guidance on offensive language across our output.”

The announcement came after at least one employee, BBC radio host DJ Sideman, resigned over the use of the slur in the segment. Sideman said, “The use of the n-word and the subsequent defense of it felt like a slap in the face of our community … The BBC sanctioning the n-word being said on national television by a white person is something I can’t rock with. This is an error in judgment where I can’t just smile with you through the process and act like everything is okay …”

Regardless of how individuals may feel about these issues, the topic of how racially-related stories, content and entertainment are discussed in public by various individuals and groups is something that many people are paying very close attention to. In many instances— again, no matter how people feel about it personally—neither content nor intent matters. What is said carries consequences.

Some have argued that this isn’t fair, and they’ve attempted to draw lines and set boundaries about how they may or may not discuss these topics, as well as what words should be used or avoided. Brands, personalities and individuals are free to do so; however, the plain fact is, there may well be consequences for transgressing lines other influential people have set.

There’s a long and growing list of people who believed they had every right to say what they did, who discovered this argument held zero weight in the court of public opinion. The Internet brings together like-minded groups and also magnifies voices that, in previous eras, would likely not have been heard.

This is the way things are, and people need to grasp this simple fact: What was once permissible in your peer group, your environment or your industry can now cause you to lose everything. Brands and public figures need to factor this notion when considering the risk of any and all public statements, sentiments or expressions of any kind.


Ronn Torossian is CEO of 5WPR, a leading PR agency.