BBC News, February 3, 2011
The BBC has apologised for remarks made on the television programme, Top Gear, that caused outrage in Mexico.
Top Gear presenters characterised Mexicans as lazy and feckless.
In a letter to Mexico’s ambassador in London, the BBC said it was sorry if it had offended some people, but said jokes based on national stereotyping were part of British national humour.
The ambassador had demanded an apology, calling the remarks “offensive, xenophobic and humiliating”.
Hundreds of Mexicans contacted the BBC Spanish-language website BBC Mundo to protest about the remarks made by presenters Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May.
Many more expressed outrage in e-mails to Mexican newspapers and websites, where the Top Gear jibes have received huge coverage.
The matter was also raised in the Mexican senate, where lawmakers were considering a motion of censure.
On Thursday an all-party group of British MPs also urged the BBC to apologise, calling the remarks “ignorant, derogatory and racist”.
In a statement, the BBC said the comments may have been “rude” and “mischievous,” but there was no “vindictiveness” behind them.
“Our own comedians make jokes about the British being terrible cooks and terrible romantics, and we in turn make jokes about the Italians being disorganised and over dramatic, the French being arrogant and the Germans being over-organised,” the BBC said.
It added that stereotype-based comedy was allowed within BBC guidelines in programmes where the audience knew they could expect it, as was the case with Top Gear.
“Whilst it may appear offensive to those who have not watched the programme or who are unfamiliar with its humour, the executive producer has made it clear to the ambassador that that was absolutely not the show’s intention,” the BBC added.
The executive producer of Top Gear also apologised to ambassador Eduardo Medina Mora personally for remarks made about him.
Jeremy Clarkson had said he was confident he would not receive any complaints about their comments because the Mexican ambassador would be asleep.
The Top Gear team’s comments about Mexicans were made when they were discussing a Mexican sports car.
Richard Hammond said vehicles reflected national characteristics so “Mexican cars are just going to be lazy”.
Reviewing the Mastretta on Sunday’s show, Hammond said: “Mexican cars are just going to be lazy, feckless, flatulent, overweight, leaning against a fence asleep looking at a cactus with a blanket with a hole in the middle on as a coat.”
The presenters, known for their edgy jibes, then described Mexican food as “refried sick”.
It is not the first time the driving programme has caused controversy.
Hundreds of viewers complained in 2008 after Clarkson made a joke about lorry drivers murdering prostitutes.
Last week, the programme was named most popular factual show at the British National TV Awards.