Liz Truss backs the BBC for not apologising after Graham Norton called Ukraine ‘southwest Russia’ sparking a flurry of complaints
- The BBC declined calls to apologise over a joke made by comic Graham Norton
- Norton joked Ukraine could be ‘southwest Russia’ for viewers watching catch-up
- Some viewers complained the jab was insensitive to Ukrainians under threat
- But a BBC spokesman said ‘no subject was off limits’ in response to criticism
- Liz Truss said BBC was right not to apologise saying: ‘I believe in free speech’
The BBC is right not to apologise over a joke about Ukraine made by chat show host Graham Norton, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said today.
The corporation received a flurry of complaints from viewers this month after the Irish comic quipped that Ukraine could soon be ‘southwest Russia’.
He made the comment during an opening segment of his star-studded weekly chat show, as Russia posted thousands of troops along the Ukrainian border.
However the BBC declined calls to apologise over the joke, instead insisting ‘no subject is off limits’.
And today Ms Truss backed the BBC’s decision. Speaking to LBC, the Foreign Secretary, who recently visited Moscow amid rising tensions with Russia, said: ‘I’m a believer in free speech.
‘I don’t necessarily believe that every joke on the BBC is in good taste but I certainly don’t support a censorship state that stops comedians making jokes.’
The BBC is right not to apologise over a joke about Ukraine made by chat show host Graham Norton, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said today
Graham Norton quipped that Ukraine could soon be ‘southwest Russia’ during a segment of his show which aired on February 4
Radio presenter Tom Swarbrick then asked: ‘So, you don’t particularly find it funny but you think the BBC are right not to apologise on free speech grounds?’, to which Ms Truss replied ‘Yes’.
Her comments come after the corporation received a flurry complaints from viewers this month after the Irish comic’s quipp.
Norton cracked the joke during the opening segment of his show which aired on February 4, in which he typically pokes fun at current events.
While talking about Boris Johnson’s trip to Kyiv, Norton said: ‘This week, he flew off to Ukraine – or if you’re watching on catch-up TV, he flew off to southwest Russia.’
A number of viewers criticised the jibe as insensitive towards Ukrainians who are under threat from a potential Russian invasion.
In a statement, the BBC rejected calls to apologise. A spokesman said: ‘We appreciate the seriousness of the current situation there and can assure you there was no intention to cause any offence with these remarks.
‘Comedy is one of the most subjective areas of programming and while no subject is off limits we appreciate that some jokes may resonate differently for those with personal experience of a particular situation.’
It follows a furore earlier this month over comedian Jimmy Carr’s Neflix show His Dark Materials, in which the comedian joked about gypsies killed during the Holocaust.
It follows a furore earlier this month over comedian Jimmy Carr’s Neflix show His Dark Materials, in which the comedian joked about gypsies killed during the Holocaust
In a widely-shared clip from the show, Carr joked about the horror of the Holocaust and ‘six million Jewish lives being lost’.
As a punchline, the 49-year-old then made a disparaging remark about the deaths of thousands of gypsies at the hands of the Nazis.
‘But they never mention the thousands of gypsies that were killed by the Nazis. No one ever wants to talk about that, because no one ever wants to talk about the positives,’ Carr quipped to a laughing audience.
The joke was later widely condemned by politicians and celebrities, including Jewish comedian David Baddiel and My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding star Paddy Doherty.