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India demands apology from BBC

world Updated: Jan 13, 2012 02:02 IST
Dipankar De Sarkar

India has demanded an apology from the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) after a popular but controversial television presenter was accused of being culturally insensitive when he took his motoring show to India last month.

In a letter to the BBC on Tuesday, the Indian high commission described the show by Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson as "tasteless" asked the corporation to "make amends, especially to assuage the hurt sentiments of a large number of people."

In his show, broadcast twice over Christmas, Clarkson drives 2,000 km across India reportedly making jokes about Indian food, clothes, toilets, trains and the country's history. With a makeshift toilet fitted on the boot of his Jaguar, he says at an Indian slum, "This is perfect for India because everyone who comes here gets the trots (diarrhoea)."

The unusually strong letter from the high commission, which tends not to react to media reports or television shows about India, also accused the BBC of breaching the terms of the contract for Clarkson's visit and hurting Indian sentiments. The BBC also received several complaints from members of the public after the show as aired. the prime-time show watched by more than 5m people, Clarkson stripped off his trousers in front of his Indian guests at a party, and wearing his boxer shorts, proceeded to show them how to use a trouser press, while joking that he also used it to heat naan.

The programme makers put banners on trains reading: "British IT is good for your company" and "Eat English muffins". But when the carriages split, the messages became obscene, reading: "Shit for your company" and "Eat English muff (slang for vagina)."

A senior Indian diplomat who saw the show recently told HT he was left aghast and outraged.

The entire show was flagged as a British "trade mission" but a light-hearted warning by Prime Minister David Cameron at the start, instructing Clarkson and his associates to "stay away from India" has been misreported.

It was made clearly in the context of the presenter's well-known tendency to anger foreign governments with his remarks, including those of Mexico and China. "You do the cars, we do the diplomacy," Cameron tells Clarkson.