BBC Radio Solent’s Alex Dyke has been branded as “shocking”, “sexist” and “disgusting” after Ofcom found his programme in Breach of the Broadcasting Code.
A total of 45 complaints were made to Ofcom, which said Alex Dyke was extremely offensive about breastfeeding, women who breastfeed, and those who support it. Complainants considered Alex Dyke to have been “shocking”, “sexist” and “disgusting”.
Quotes from the show in question in August appear below.
BBC Radio Solent suspended the presenter for almost a week after two complaints were received at the station and a local petition called for him to be sacked. When returning to air, Alex repeated his apology for any offence caused in addition to the station’s earlier apology.
The BBC accepted that “even within the context of the [Alex Dyke] show’s normal format and the expectations of regular listeners, Alex Dyke’s comments went beyond what was acceptable”.
Ofcom said Alex’s comments had the potential to cause considerable offence and noted the various steps taken by the BBC, including the apologies which were broadcast on air, but still found the programme in Breach of Rule 2.3 of the Code.
The BBC Trust Executive also investigated the programme. They said:
“Trustees considered that phone-in programmes were a valuable forum for connecting with audiences, they tapped in to the likely topics of conversation and allowed the BBC to engage with audiences. Trustees acknowledged that presenters had editorial freedom about the choice of subjects they discussed and considerable leeway to provoke opinion, for example, they could choose to use humour, exaggeration and play devil’s advocate. Trustees considered all these devices were well understood and accepted by audiences.
“However in this instance, they considered the comments stepped significantly beyond what would have been deemed acceptable by listeners. They noted inparticular repeated derogatory stereotypical comments about the appearance of the kind of women who might breastfeed. Trustees also considered the treatment of one caller in particular was derogatory.
“The Committee considered this was a serious breach of the Editorial Guidelines for Harm and Offence and for Fairness, Contributors and Consent.”
Here’s what happened on August 12th:
At the beginning of this particular programme, the presenter, Alex Dyke, introduced the discussion topic of breastfeeding as follows:
“I’ve got one of those taboo subjects I want to talk about. There’s kind of stuff that particularly in this day and age guys should say but I’m going to tell you what guys are thinking. Okay? There’s this kind of stuff. There’s stuff that we should be saying, particularly as a broadcaster – it is 2015 – but there’s the stuff that guys are really thinking: Ladies, Mums, we don’t like breastfeeding in public. We don’t honestly, we don’t. Something in the paper about this today, and, funnily enough, I experienced this yesterday. Er, mother who breastfeeds her son and her friend’s child, she sparked a firestorm on the internet. There is a picture here, it’s in most of the tabloids today. It is seen as a special bond between mother and baby, but this breastfeeding picture has sparked a frenzy online and divided opinion across the world. For the photograph doesn’t just portray a woman breastfeeding her 16 month-old son, she’s also at the same time, breastfeeding her friend’s 18 monthold boy. Now, yesterday I was on a bus, and there was a lady on this bus – she was quite a big girl – she had a toddler with her, a baby, some shopping stuff and she starts to breastfeed her baby on the bus. I didn’t know where to look. She’s putting me in an embarrassing situation. I didn’t really realise what was going on, I thought she was just cuddling her baby. Then I looked over and I realised what was going on and I wanted to look away but the bus was packed. There was nowhere else to look. Breastfeeding’s unnatural. I mean, I know it’s natural, but it’s kind of unnatural. It’s the kind of thing that should be done in a quiet and private nursery. We don’t want it in public, do we, fellas, come on?”
Alex Dyke discussed the issue of breastfeeding with several listeners who contacted the programme by telephone. He also made a number of references to breastfeeding in public, including the following:
“[Breastfeeding] was OK in the Stone Age when we knew no better. And people didn’t have their own teeth. When we didn’t have washrooms”;
“[Breastfeeding]’s not a great look”.
“You wouldn’t get your yummy mummies doing [breastfeeding]”.
“Men don’t like it, they don’t like it in public”.
Alex Dyke also referred to women who breastfed in public as: “history teachers, geography teachers”; “librarian-types with moustaches”; “Brownie pack leaders”; and “earth mothers… the ones with moustaches, the ones who work in libraries, the ones who wear hessian”.
In addition, the presenter suggested that breastfeeding women might wear “breastfeeding signs” around their necks or breastfeeding “hats”. He also labelled men who support breastfeeding in public as being “wimps who are scared of their wives”.
Alex Dyke broadcast the following apology on 13 August 2015, the day after the original programme: “Yesterday on the show I spoke about breastfeeding. The comments I made during the programme were unacceptable and I would like to apologise for any offence caused”.
The presenter broadcast the following second apology a week later on 20 August 2015, when he returned to presenting the programme following a suspension:
“On Wednesday’s show last week I made comments which, on reflection, were comments which were misguided, ill-judged and showed a lack of understanding and empathy with women who breastfeed. I have had time away from my radio show, and had space to think about what I said. I’d like to once again say I’m sorry for any offence these remarks caused, and know they were unacceptable. I have read many of the points of view sent to me and I’ve learnt a lot from the many conversations I’ve had in the last few days. Today is not the right time to revisit the topic, but it is something we will do at some point in the future.”