What The Regulators Say
Created on 22 Jun 2011
Following the break in service...
While we rewrote the Editorial Guidelines and built our new website our "What the Regulators say..." newsletter didn't appear for a while. This is the first of the new series, which we're aiming to produce once a month.
For space reasons, this edition catches up on decisions that have come out over the last year or so, focusing on those that mean content producers will have to think differently, perhaps changing the way they do things. In future, we will add details of other significant findings.
BBC Trust: Harry Potter Day, BBC Radio 1, 15 July 2009
Harry Potter Day, trailed on-air and on accompanying web pages, was organised to mark the release of the latest film in the series, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. The Editorial Standards Committee agreed that the Guidelines on undue prominence and endorsement of commercial products apply not only to single programmes, but also, cumulatively, to a number of stand-alone programmes connected by a common theme. So, even though each of the programmes involved complied with the editorial guidelines in their own right, taken as a whole, and in the context of the timing of the film’s release, they had the cumulative result of breaching the provisions relating to product prominence. In addition, the committee felt there were insufficient journalistic reasons for the repeated references to the film, and that not enough care was taken to minimise product references in output designed to appeal to children.
BBC Trust: Doctors, BBC One, 21 July 2010
The complaint concerns a one-fingered gesture used by a character in the drama (though this is from proceedings in the French parliament), which the complainant argued was “well known as the non-verbal version of telling someone to f*** off”.
There is no explicit reference to gestures in the Editorial Guidelines, so the Trust considered this complaint against the Principles, concluding that, in the context, audience expectations were unlikely to have been exceeded. The Trust reminded content producers that any such gestures must always be given careful consideration and should not be used indiscriminately.
Editorial Complaints Unit: Radio 1 presents Coldplay, U2 = BBC, Zane Lowe, Radio 1, 23 February 2009
The ECU found that both BBC coverage of a Coldplay tour and later coverage of U2 at the time of the launch of their new album had each amounted to undue prominence for commercial products or organisations, when taken cumulatively. In addition, they complained that several specified items (including the "Radio 1 presents Coldplay" website, the on-screen graphic "U2 = BBC" and an edition of Zane Lowe) had breached relevant BBC guidelines.
The ECU investigation also found:
- The "Radio 1 presents Coldplay" website included direct links to the websites of ticket agents. This was not in keeping with the BBC's guidelines on links to external websites.
- The use of the mathematical symbol for identity in the graphic "U2 = BBC" gave an inappropriate impression of endorsement.
- A pre-recorded interview between Zane Lowe and Bono of U2 was for the most part appropriate, but a reference to Radio 1 being "part of launching this new album" was not.
Ofcom: Photosensitive epilepsy triggered by flashes
Following a series of breaches, Ofcom has again reminded broadcasters of the risks that flashing images can trigger photosensitive epilepsy.
The X Factor Results Show, ITV, 25 October 2009 (Bulletin 150), Cheryl Cole’s performance on X Factor, 24 October 2010 (Bulletin 174) and coverage of the engagement of Prince William and Kate Middleton on BBC News at Ten, 23 November 2010 (Bulletin 176) and ITV News, 14 February 2011 were among programmes found in breach of what is now Ofcom rule 2.12, which requires broadcasters to maintain a low level of risk to viewers who have photosensitive epilepsy. X Factor included performances with laser lighting effects - photographers’ camera flashes were to blame on BBC News at Ten. Ofcom has again emphasised to broadcasters that it does not expect a recurrence, and warned them to ensure that testing equipment is appropriate and effective.
Ofcom: GMTV with Lorraine, GMTV, 14 January 2010
Care when featuring commercial services
This has a regular feature called called Deals of the Week, in which guest Martin Lewis offers viewers advice on current consumer deals. A viewer objected to these features on the following grounds: “How does GMTV keep editorial and advertising separate given that its money expert Martin Lewis broadcasts what listeners will trust is editorial but always directs viewers to his business moneysavingexpert.com which is a sales business?”
Ofcom reviewed a week of programme output, and concluded:
“By inviting viewers to obtain further information and vouchers on the GMTV website, and then re-directing them to Martin Lewis’ commercial website to obtain that information, the programme was effectively promoting his business. As a result of this promotion, the programme was in breach of the … Code”.
This part of the Ofcom code doesn’t apply to the BBC, but the Guidelines on product prominence are very similar. Content producers should note this finding, and take to care ensure that any references to commercial websites operated by programme guests are editorially justified.
Ofcom: The X Factor Final ITV1, 11 December 2010
Too sexually explicit?
During this 7.00pm show Rihanna, performed her latest song, “What‟s My Name,” in a dress which was removed by a dancer during the performance to reveal a strapless top and high waisted pants. Later at Christina Aguilera sang the song “Express” from the film “Burlesque” in which she stars. This featured the singer with a number of dancers performing in a burlesque-style of dance and dress.
Ofcom received 2,868 complaints that the performances by Rihanna and Christina Aguilera were “too sexually explicit” for broadcast before the 21:00 watershed.
Approximately 2,000 of the 2,868 complaints about this programme were received following coverage about the performances in the Daily Mail.
Although Ofcom did not uphold the complaints, it commented:
However, broadcasters of programmes that attract family audiences and significant child audiences, and which contain clear sexual overtones or significant sexualised elements transmitted in the period running up to the 21:00 watershed (or on the mornings at weekends), should recognise the significant potential for causing offence. In these circumstances, broadcasters must take great care to provide appropriate protection for those audiences. Ofcom will shortly be issuing new guidance about the acceptability of material in pre-watershed programmes that attract large family viewing audiences. We will also be requesting that broadcasters who transmit such programming attend a meeting at Ofcom to discuss the compliance of such material.
Ofcom: Note to broadcasters, 6 June 2011
Ofcom has recently noted a number of cases of offensive language broadcast before the watershed or when children are particularly likely to be listening which the broadcasters in question have attributed to scheduling or human error.
All broadcasters are reminded that they are under a clear duty to ensure that robust procedures are in place, supported by a sufficient number of appropriately qualified and trained staff, to ensure full compliance with the Code. This obligation covers all aspects of programmes, including tasks such as sub-titling, which the broadcaster may choose to contract out to third parties.
Ofcom expects all broadcasters to check their compliance procedures regularly to confirm they are robust enough to fulfil this requirement. Failure to have adequate compliance procedures in place to ensure compliance with Ofcom‟s codes is a serious matter and can lead to regulatory action being taken.
The French broadcasting regulator, the CSA, has said broadcasters may not cite services like Facebook or Twitter by name, but must refer to generic “social media” , unless there is a specific reason to do so. The CSA has a rule on combatting “secret advertising” - which appears to be rather more rigorous than the BBC’s Guideline on product prominence.