Newsletter

What The Regulators Say - 2

Created on 19 Sep 2011

As the autumn season launches...

Broadcasting regulators have had a quiet summer, so here, with very strong language, is the latest summary of the most significant findings.

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Accuracy

BBC Trust: Today, BBC Radio 4, 27 September 2010

The need to consider the sensitivity and controversy surrounding a subject in order to achieve due accuracy is highlighted in a BBC Trust adjudication on the Today programme. The introduction to an interview said “the moratorium on Israelis building new settlements in the West Bank came to an end” when in fact it was a moratorium on new construction within existing Israeli settlements that had ended.

This point had been reported correctly on the other occasions it had been mentioned in the programme. However, the Editorial Guidelines state that “All BBC output, as appropriate to its subject and nature, must be…presented in clear, precise language”. So the Trust upheld the complaint observing that this was “a topic which particularly demands accuracy and precision in order for the audience to be well-informed”.

Fact and Fiction in Drama

Ofcom: The Execution of Gary Glitter, Channel 4, 9 November 2009

This documentary-style drama used the well-known facts of Gary Glitter's history of child abuse, and archive news footage of him, to explore a fictional Britain where the death penalty has been introduced for serious sexual offences against children. Glitter and the investigating police officer were played by actors, but real journalists, and a politician, also appeared.

Paul Gadd, better known as Gary Glitter, complained the blend of fact and fiction gave the impression that he had committed "terrible crimes which have gone unpunished".

The Ofcom Executive originally proposed upholding the complaint, but the new Broadcasting Review Committee disagreed.  It thought Mr Gadd's well known reputation in relation to child sex offences left little scope for additional damage to his reputation in this area, and viewers had been made well aware that this was a fictional drama by a pre-transmission announcement, captions, and the use of fictional scenarios.  The complaint was not upheld.

You can read the BBC’s Guidelines on the portrayal of real people in drama here.

Strong Language at 9pm

Ofcom: Hell's Kitchen USA, ITV2, 18 April 2011, 9.00pm

The move to more adult material when the watershed begins at 9pm “should not be abrupt”.  This is reinforced by Ofcom’s adjudication against the US version of Gordon Ramsey’s reality-style cooking contest.  It contained 47 uses of the word "fuck" or its derivatives in an hour, 18 in the first 11 minutes, which included a montage of the programme's highlights.

Ofcom considered this an unduly abrupt transition to more adult, post-watershed material at 9pm, and noted that 38,000  under fifteens (6.6% of viewers) had been watching. 

Distressing Storylines

Ofcom: Eastenders, BBC1, 31 Dec 2010, 1 Jan 2011 and various episodes to 14 April 2011

Over two episodes, broadcast at 8.00pm on New Year's Eve and 8.30pm on New Year's day, the character Ronnie Branning lost her new born son James to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (or "cot death").  She then exchanged James' body for Tommy, another baby recently born to Kat and Alfie Moon.  Subsequent episodes explored experiences of Kat and Alfie, who believed it was Tommy who had died, and Ronnie's change of character.

Ofcom received 1044 complaints. Most of these came soon after the first two episodes had been broadcast, but Ofcom considered the complaints couldn’t be dealt with until after the storyline had played out.

The BBC was asked to explain what steps were taken to ensure the credibility of the script.  These steps included consultation with experts and parents who had lost children to cot death.  With that in mind, Ofcom concluded that the storyline would not have exceeded expectations for the regular Eastenders audience, and the additional publicity would have served as context for those less familiar with the series. The complaints were not upheld.

Strong Language on Music Radio

Ofcom has been monitoring radio stations and found some of them playing music tracks containing very strong language.  It has upheld a number of complaints, resolved one complaint about very strong language in a Black Eyed Peas live set on BBC Radio 1, and issued new Guidance on the issue:

Guidance

Ofcom recognises that it is important that broadcasters are able to exercise the editorial freedom to transmit to transmit material live that has an element of risk attached. There could be a disproportionate restriction on broadcasters and viewers /listeners freedom of expression if broadcasters were required, when transmitting live, only to interview individuals or broadcast material where there was perceived to be absolutely no risk of offensive language being used. However, when broadcasting live, a careful balance needs to be struck between a programme’s editorial freedom to feature material where there is an acceptable risk it might potentially contain offensive content, and a requirement to take all appropriate measures to ensure people under eighteen are protected and to apply generally accepted standards. Broadcasters should note that as well as taking steps to avoid strong language during live performances, they must also be vigilant during the broadcast itself for any potential breaches of the Code and where necessary take timely action during the broadcast to prevent them.

In Brief...

Ofcom has upheld its first breach of the Product Placement rules, against Cityscape ABS-CBN News Channel , and not upheld a complaint against Dispatches: Tabloids Dirty Secrets ( Channel 4),  which argued a journalist had been given insufficient opportunity to reply to allegations made against him.  Ofcom concluded that a “right of reply” letter sent out on the day of transmission was, in this case, an adequate opportunity to reply, as it related to a single, very narrow issue.

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