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Ofcom clears Channel 4 News over Jon Snow's 'never seen so many white people' comment

Broadcast regulator Ofcom has cleared Channel 4 News of any wrongdoing after presenter Jon Snow said he had “never seen so many white people in one place” while reporting on a pro-Brexit rally.

Snow’s comment was “sufficiently contextualised” despite having the potential to cause offence, Ofcom said in a ruling published today.

Snow was reporting live from College Green in Westminster, near where a number of Brexit rallies and protests were taking place, on 29 March 2019.

The report came after Parliament rejected Theresa May’s draft EU withdrawal agreement on the day Britain had been due to leave the EU.

Snow closed his live segment by saying: “It has been the most extraordinary day. A day which has seen – I’ve never seen so many white people in one place. It’s an extraordinary story. There are people everywhere. There are crowds everywhere.”

More than 2,600 complaints were sent to Ofcom about the comment, with many claiming it was racist and offensive.

Some of the complainants said Snow had encouraged racial tensions, implied differing views on Brexit were based on race or that there was a potential link between Brexit supporters and white supremacists, or was biased as the racial background of pro-Remain marchers at similar events had not been similarly referenced.

Channel 4 News described Snow’s comments as “a spontaneous, unscripted observation” and that it was “satisfied” they were “justified in the circumstances”.

It also said they were “factually accurate… pointing out the predominantly white make-up of the large numbers of crowd and protesters”.

“Jon Snow, who is also a white person, told the public what he saw,” the broadcaster told Ofcom.

“Mr Snow did not say that the crowds were entirely white. Some have inferred that Mr Snow was making a negative comment about Brexit supporters and that there were racial overtones. That was not the case.

“There was no negative or pejorative language, tone, intent or implication behind it… he was entitled to point to this unusual situation.”

The day after broadcast, after becoming aware of the “polarised debate from the viewers and the media”, the programme issued a statement saying it regretted any offence caused.

Channel 4 News told Ofcom it had issued the statement “in recognition that some people may have been offended, but this in no way undermines the premise that that offence was justified and did not breach the code”.

Ofcom considered the complaints under Rule 2.3 of the Broadcasting Code, which says the broadcast of potentially offensive material should be justified by its context.

The regulator said the comments had the potential to cause offence, even if this was unintended.

This was because Snow’s statement did not appear to relate directly to anything that had come previously in the programme but did follow a discussion with interviewees about societal divisions and “ethnic nationalism”.

Ofcom said Snow’s comments were ambiguous in meaning and touched on a “clearly sensitive” issue.

It said they “had the potential to be understood by viewers as him making a connection between the racial background of participants at the march and their pro-Brexit views”.

However it acknowledged that the “large number” of those protesting and in the crowd appeared to be “predominantly white”, and said Channel 4 News had taken steps to present all sides of the Brexit debate over programme as a whole.

The live nature of the programme, with Snow broadcasting next to some of the protesters, meant viewers were more likely to expect such unplanned remarks and interpret them as a “high-level, personal impression of the day’s events” and an account of what Snow had seen, Ofcom said.

Ruling that there was no breach of the Broadcasting Cod, Ofcom concluded: “…it was our view that the potential offence arising from Mr Snow’s statement was sufficiently contextualised in this particular case.”

Read the full ruling (from page 33).

Picture: Channel 4 News

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