Complaint upheld against LBC host Steve Allen

LBC early morning presenter Steve Allen has been found in breach of the Ofcom broadcasting code for comments about the travelling community.

Ofcom investigated part of his show on 28th December 2017 in which Steve was making a comment about a news item about the traveller community.

Steve said the following: “‘Brawling travellers shut down a holiday village’. Why do we have to start being nice to travellers? Every time I read a story in the newspaper its either thieving, robbing or brawling. And this one was terrible, all the businesses had to close and everything else. We had them moving into a hospital car park a short while ago, it was all very odd. What is the matter with them? What is the matter with them?”

In response, LBC’s owner Global stated that Steve Allen’ programme is “personality-led” and his “daily rundown of the news at the top of the show followed his usual theme of acerbic commentary”. Global added that he was “typically even-handed in handing out criticism to those who featured”.

LBC said that Mr Allen had read the story in question which he had “believed at the time” to refer to individuals “from the travelling community”. As such, the Licensee stated that Steve Allen had “wanted to make a genuine observation on the number of negative stories newspapers feature on the travelling community, and convey his anger at the individuals involved in this particular story”.

The Licensee stated its belief that, in regards to offence, “listeners would have considered these comments in the context of Steve’s familiar style of fast-moving, continuous rhetoric that rarely dwells significantly on any subject”. It added that Mr Allen’s “criticism [is handed out to] many that feature” and as such “the audience would have an expectation of this approach and would have viewed the comments alongside the various critical statements made about other individuals”.

Global concluded by stating that it had “reviewed the clip with Steve as it appears that his comments could be construed as straying beyond criticism of the perpetrators of this particular criminal act”. It added that Steve Allen had agreed to “take much greater care in this area going forward”.

As a result, Mr Allen went on to ask rhetorically: “Why do we have to start being nice to travellers? Every time I read a story in the newspaper its either thieving, robbing or brawling…what is the matter with them? What is the matter with them?”

In upholding the complaint, Ofcom said the remarks could be interpreted as offering a highly pejorative and generalised view about members of the traveller community, a protected racial group under the Equality Act 2010, and as such had the potential to cause offence to listeners. “The likely level of offence in this case would have been increased by Mr Allen’s repeated and emphatic use of the rhetorical question “what is the matter with them?”. In our view, this would have served to reinforce Steve Allen’s attribution of a clearly negative stereotype of certain forms of anti-social and criminal behaviour (i.e. “thieving, robbing or brawling”) to all members of the travelling community, Ofcom said.”

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