Line of Duty in breach of Ofcom code
The BBC Two crime drama Line of Duty has been found in breach of Ofcom rules on the emotional welfare of child contributors.
The media watchdog ruled the BBC took "insufficient" steps concerning a 13-year-old actor whose character Ryan appeared in scenes of intense violence and sexually explicit language.
However, Ofcom also noted comments from the teenager's mother stating that his "experience had been positive", and from the BBC and that there was no "apparent" harm or distress to the actor.
A complaint was made by a viewer following two episodes broadcast in July, which showed Ryan trying to sever a detective's fingers with bolt cutters and, later on, at a police station interview where another detective refers to oral sex.
Ryan is asked by the policeman: "You're a tough kid, Ryan, or at least you think you are; where did you get those injuries?...If you carry on like this, the place you are going has 16-year-olds, 17-year-olds and they are built like brick sheds. How do you think you'll fare against one of those lads? They knock your teeth out, Ryan; they do that so you give a better blow job."
The child actor was on set throughout the filming of the above scene and was not removed when possible, which the BBC admitted did not abide by best practice advice from the BBC's Editorial Policy Unit (EPU).
"It would have been preferable for the contributions from [the child actor] and the character DC Fleming to have been filmed separately to avoid his exposure to the language that was used."
The parents of the child actor had given their consent for their son to appear in the drama after seeing the scripts and, following acting workshops, the casting director concluded the 13-year-old "could cope with the emotional demands of the role".
The child's mother also acted as chaperone on the set of the drama, which was made by independent company World Productions and has been recommissioned for a second series.
But Ofcom said it was "concerned" the programme-makers decided not to take advice from external counsellors or psychologists with no vested interest in the actor's participation.
Ofcom also noted that:
- There was no ongoing formal risk assessment for each episode, which considered the possible emotional risks of having a 13-year-old child in the afore-mentioned scenes.
- Regarding the filming of the police interview, the BBC executive producer and programme-makers decided not to remove the child actor from set when possible - as advised by the EPU - because they thought there was nothing in the script that exceeded the child actor's ability "to cope emotionally and intellectually".
- The EPU "did not realise that best practice advice had not been adhered to" when reviewing material pre-transmission and did not raise concerns because the police interview scene was shot and edited in a way that implied the child actor had not been present throughout.
The watchdog acknowledged the BBC "had given due consideration to the physical risks" but the corporation's "failure to take the steps…in relation to the child actor's emotional welfare reflected a serious lapse of its compliance with the [Ofcom] Code".
Ofcom also expressed concern that the programme-makers' decision not to apply the EPU advice had not come to the BBC's attention before the watchdog contacted them.
The BBC said it would have been "impractical" for the EPU to follow up the advice and it was standard practice to not follow up checks as compliance responsibility was with the editorial and production teams.
The EPU will now arrange a training session for the controller, commissioners and executive producers in BBC Drama concerning the protection of children in their productions.
The BBC also said best practice would be reviewed in all production phases to ensure that "effective and appropriate procedures are adhered to at all stages, from pre-production compliance discussion through production, to transmission".
Ofcom has required the BBC and relevant broadcasters to attend a meeting to discuss the protection of child participants. The media watchdog will also carry out a programme of spot checks on broadcasters' compliance with the relevant sections of the Ofcom code.
In a separate case, Ofcom also ruled a trail for the police drama Good Cop, which transmitted at 6.40pm on BBC One HD, showed excessive violence for a pre-watershed slot.
The BBC said the creators of the trail had been reminded of the need for "particular vigilance" concerning pre-watershed content, and that compliance procedures had subsequently been tightened.