The British radio host Steve Allen had his wrists slapped by media regulators for his commentary during two different segments last August.
OfCom, the UK broadcast regulator, released two rulings this week against Allen, whose show airs on LBC 97.3 FM–“talk radio for London on current affairs and news affecting London,” according to its website. In both cases, Allen suggested that people should throw things at two people who had been convicted of crimes, or to vandalize their houses.
OfCom confirmed its decision in a statement sent to iMediaEthics “We found that comments made by Steve Allen on LBC broke our broadcasting rules on harmful and offensive content.”
Nonetheless, the regulator ruled in both cases that the comments could be considered offensive but didn’t necessarily incite action.
Allen says ‘Throw Things’ at Man who Harassed Murdered Soldier’s Family
In an Aug. 28 program, Allen called for listeners to “throw things at” Chris Spivey, a man convicted of harassing the family of a murdered soldier, Lee Rigby. Rigby’s death is very well-known in the UK. He was run down and hacked to death by Muslim extremists in a London street in 2013.
Allen said in his program that Spivey is “clearly not only immensely stupid but thick at the same time,” as well as a “menacing looking bloke” and “a nasty piece of work.” Allen commented, “I’d have had him hanging from gallows.” Going further, Allen commented, “When you see him out throw things at him — bricks would be quite nice. I’d have had him banged up immediately. He looks like he would enjoy a bit of prison life with a few other men.”
Allen wasn’t finished with him. The radio host then called Spivey a “vile piece of filth” and a “stupid pathetic waste of space.”
“People like you need taking out and just pushing off the end of the pier somewhere,” Allen said. “Let you swim, preferably as far out as you can possibly get.” Then he added he thinks Spivey is “disgusting” and “ugly.”
The radio station defended the comments, arguing Allen has “a particular presenting style and tone that his audience were very familiar with.” Further, the station argued regular listeners know he was just kidding around.
The comments “were not meant literally” and not “a direct incitement to commit a criminal act,” the station told OfCom, adding that Allen’s commentary expressed personal opinion through “tongue-in-cheek remarks.”
The station reminded Allen of broadcasting standards after the complaint and noted that Allen has worked for the station for 39 years.
OfCom ruled that the comments were potentially offensive and advocated vigilantism, especially since Allen mentioned which town Spivey lives in. “Taken as a whole, we considered that the aggressive approach taken by Steve Allen, which appeared to condone vigilantism against an individual whom he perceived as having received insufficient punishment by the courts, had the potential to cause offence to listeners,” OfCom ruled.
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Even though Allen’s style is usually “acerbic,” OfCom decided he went too far in this case. “In this case Steve Allen’s comments amounted to the endorsement of retribution against an individual whom he considered had been leniently treated by the criminal justice system.”
And since Allen didn’t provide any greater context about sentencing or another point, there was no “justification” to include the claims.
OfCom dismissed a complaint about the comments inciting crime though, saying, “In both cases, the presenter’s comments went further than his typical acerbic delivery and appeared to condone vigilantism. While we didn’t believe listeners would act upon his comments, the lack of contextual information or challenge meant no material was broadcast to lessen the potential offence caused.”
Allen also said Christine Babb ‘must be dead easy to find’
The second complaint against Allen was over his Aug. 31 program about Christine Babb, who had been convicted of selling fake tickets to the Glastonbury music festival. In that case, Allen got in trouble because he called for people to egg Babb’s bouse after naming the town she lives in.
“I’d be round there egging her house, ladies and gentleman. She can’t be that difficult to find. Her name is Christine Babb. She lives in East Grinstead —must be dead easy to find,” Allen said in part.
LBC Radio again defended Allen’s “acerbic” tone and style, explaining Allen “wished to feature another individual he felt had caused considerable harm without sufficient punishment.” The radio station noted Allen had Babb’s address but didn’t tell listeners, which indicated he didn’t really want people to go egg her house.
OfCom decided that Allen’s comments were likely offensive because of “his repeated and antagonistic language.”
“Steve Allen therefore put forward the idea of throwing eggs at Ms Babb’s house; named the area where she lived on at least three occasions; stated that she must be ‘dead easy to find’, and later in the broadcast, that he had her address as the police had given it out publicly earlier in the year. He further argued that people like her “don’t learn” and “you have to teach them a lesson” – that is, stripping their houses of items of value to either sell “or set fire to…'”
Like in the previous case, OfCom ruled Allen went too far and didn’t provide any balancing or factual context. “In Ofcom’s view it was not necessarily the issue of to whom the presenter’s comments were directed that raised concern,” OfCom wrote. “It was the aggressive tone and delivery of the presenter’s comments which amounted to an endorsement that it was acceptable for listeners to compensate for lenient sentencing by taking their own retribution against such individuals, which was capable of causing offence.”
OfCom again ruled the comments were offensive but didn’t incite violence or action.
iMediaEthics wrote last year when OfCom ruled it was “potentially inflammatory” for Allen to suggest the public “go round and start beating up tube people” (London subway workers).
iMediaEthics has written to LBC Radio for comment.