Jo Brand battery acid joke not pursued further by broadcasting watchdog

Ofcom said the comments ‘were unlikely to encourage or incite the commission of a crime’.
Ofcom said the comments ‘were unlikely to encourage or incite the commission of a crime’.

Jo Brand’s joke about throwing battery acid at politicians had “potential to offend listeners” but was unlikely to incite crime, broadcasting watchdog Ofcom has said.

The comedian, 62, sparked outrage when she made comments about milkshakes being thrown at politicians, suggesting battery acid could be used instead.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Heresy show: “I’m thinking why bother with a milkshake when you could get some battery acid.”

Ofcom said the comments, which aired in June, “had clear potential to offend listeners”.

It said the comments “were unlikely to encourage or incite the commission of a crime”.

It cited audience expectations of Brand and the satirical programme, and the comic making it clear her comments should not be taken seriously or acted on.

She had said on-air: “I’m not going to do it, it’s pure fantasy, but I think milkshakes are pathetic, I really do.”

The programme was recorded amid political debate about Brexit and around three weeks after Nigel Farage had a milkshake thrown over him by a member of the public.

An Ofcom spokeswoman said the complaints would not be pursued further.

“Acid attacks are extremely serious crimes. We found that these comments had clear potential to offend listeners,” she said.

“But we also considered the audience’s likely expectations of Jo Brand’s style – and of this established show, which sets out to challenge accepted views in society through provocative comedy.

“We also took into account that Ms Brand immediately qualified her comments, making it clear they shouldn’t be taken seriously or acted upon.”

The broadcasting code says material which has the potential to offend may be broadcast, as long as its inclusion in a programme is justified by the context.

Ofcom said: “Taking into account broadcasters’ and audiences’ rights to freedom of expression, we consider that there should be significant room for creative freedom and challenging material in comedy programmes.”

Last year, the BBC’s executive complaints unit ruled that the joke “went beyond what was appropriate” for a Radio 4 comedy show.

Ofcom said it will “continue to work with the BBC as it further considers ways to improve transparency around the BBC complaints process”.