From Zippy on
I sent an email to Ofcom about the channel 5 broadcast last week, not to
complain but to clarify if it was in breach of the guidelines. This was
Re Five: X Rated: The Films That Shocked Britain, 9.1.2004, 23:10
We received several complaints about this broadcast and therefore
obtained a copy of the programme and watched it with the complainants
comments in mind. I should say from the outset that we did not uphold the
complaints. I’d like to explain why.
It is evident from the title and the subject matter that this documentary
will not appeal to all tastes, and it is equally clear that some of the
scenes, imagery and dialogue used will be of an adult nature. Our concern is
that the treatment of all such material complies with our Code requirements,
taking into account the type of programme, the target audience, the
audience’s informed expectations and, most importantly, the time of
transmission. Mindful of this, five scheduled this programme at 11.10pm –
well after the watershed when material of an adult nature can be shown - and
preceded it with a clear warning that the programme contained “nudity,
scenes of a sexual nature and very strong language from the start”.
The programme did contain strong sexual scenes, but overall we don’t believe
it breached our Programme Code. The material was scheduled appropriately and
clearly signposted. More, the images of male arousal were understood in the
context of a well-researched, serious documentary into sexually explicit
cinema. The images were not used in a trivial or flippant manner which may
have heightened the potential for offence being caused to the audience.
Given the context described, we have no grounds to suppose that the material
exceeded viewers’ informed expectations of this programme.
For your information the Programme Code makes no specific reference to
‘erections’, male or female arousal. We accept that ‘erections’ very rarely
appear on television – a reflection, perhaps, of viewers’ sensitivity to
this type of material. But there is no prohibition on their inclusion within
programmes. Importantly, it is the treatment of such images that concerns
us. Where it clearly exceeds viewers’ expectations we can intervene with the
broadcaster. But we don’t believe this has occurred here.
I hope this letter goes some way to explaining our policies and how we
arrive at them.
So there you have it ‘erections’ are allowed on any channel as long as the
context is right, It would be interesting to see if penetration may also be
allowed as some 18 certificate films contain penetration. I have the name of
the person that replayed but wasn’t sure if I should post it here. This is a
very interesting decision as channel 4 have edited these scenes like these
out when showing some of these kind of films. It seems that indeed there has
been a change in the code or at least a change in the way the code is being
interpreted. I believe channel 4 could now show such films uncut. If this is
the case Ofcom will have an even harder job keeping the prohibition of
hardcore on adult channels on the basis of harm.
Broadcasters will work with film censors to create a new “labelling
system” which will warn television viewers about programmes containing sex
Ofcom is to set up a new body, comprising broadcasters, the BBFC,
internet service providers and mobile phone operators, which will develop
the first common labelling system in British television. The regulator asked
broadcasters to develop a way of informing viewers that is consistent across
Five and BSkyB already use cinema-style ratings for films but now there
could be age restriction recommendations and content warnings across all
Research conducted by Ofcom found that viewers want more information about
programmes. Protecting children from inappropriate material is a particular
Some of the methods proposed will include warning messages which flash on
screen, or “pop-up” alerts for those who in future will download programmes
from the internet.
But the code would be voluntary and disagreements were already brewing
between broadcasters and Ofcom over the practicality of such a system. The
BBC said it agreed with Ofcom that “consistency in presenting information”
was a priority but argued that this could be achieved without a common
Viewers watching a foreign-language film on the digital BBC Four channel
would, for example, expect a higher level of sexual content than those
watching Parkinson on ITV1 at the same time. The BBC called for a more
“sophisticated understanding” of audience expectations before proceeding.
Channel 4 rejected a common labelling system. They said that it already
offered “clear, comprehensive, spoken information about the nature and
content of any programming that may cause harm and offence to viewers.”
ITV was concerned the proposal would be impractical. Labelling “could draw
children to programmes that they would otherwise not be interested in simply
because of its adult content”, the broadcaster warned. There could not be a
consistent labelling system across broadband internet and mobile phone
content, which Ofcom had no control over, ITV said.
ITV agreed to examine new technologies to give viewers more information
but argued that parents have the primary responsibility over what children
Ofcom said it had a statutory responsibility under the 2003 Communications
Act to improve “media literacy” and the concept of a common labelling code
was backed by viewers.
A spokesman said: Ofcom supports the development of a common labelling
system to support greater consistency in presenting information related to
possible harm and offence and to protect young and vulnerable people from
A joint working group of broadcasters will investigate how viewers prefer to
receive information about challenging content, particularly in homes with
It seems that Ofcom have
had a last minute rush of responses to their contents consultation. 600
responses have now been received. My own response suffered a little from
last minutitus but if anyone would like to read it,
here it is in Word
Ofcom are now considering the responses to their consultation which
closed on October 5th 2004
Ofcom has now started to publish responses it has received to the
broadcasting standards consultation. So far 24 responses have been
published with 13 in favour of R18, 5 against R18 and 6 with no comment
on R18 (such as responses concerning smoking on TV). This is encouraging,
but there must still be many responses unpublished so the full picture will
not emerge until after the consultation closes. Hopefully Ofcom will publish
all of the responses so we can clearly see what the respondents said.
There is still time to respond if you wish, but not much. Ofcom must
receive responses by 5.00pm on October the 5th
Thanks to Paul Taverner of Ofwatch who attended the Westminster
Media Forum events on the 14th and 15th September to
discuss the new Ofcom broadcasting code. (See
Ofwatch for a more complete write up
of the meetings).
14th September Informal reception on the
terrace of the House of Commons
170 people and no fixed agenda, but a chance to meet
some of the players such as Sarah Thane, one of Ofcom’s Content and
Standards Advisors. Unfortunately Sarah would not be drawn into any
discussion concerning proportionality, consistency or evidence based
regulation, which was a shame, considering her job title. If there was going
to be a time for Ofcom to explain themselves this was not going to be it.
Nevertheless some useful snippets of information were to be had. Sarah made
it clear that all responses would be carefully read by the Ofcom content and
standards team, in some cases by several people, the aim being to prepare a
comprehensive report for the content board to consider.
Perhaps the most memorable moment was being introduced
to Lord Currie (Ofcom’s chairman) by Jocelyn Hay from the Voice of the
Listener and Viewer. When I explained who I was his face was an absolute
picture, appearing both delighted and yet aghast at the same time! He was
however most courteous and did confirm my suspicion that the content board
would not have the final say concerning the R18 issue. The content board
will merely make a recommendation that the full Ofcom board will consider
and either except or reject. The recommendation would however carry
considerable weight. Needless to say like Sarah, Lord Currie was not at all
keen to be drawn into any discussion concerning proportionality, consistency
or evidence based regulation which was also a shame considering his job
15th September Consultation Seminar on
the proposed broadcasting code at One Great George Street
Three separate discussion groups each on a separate
topic. The one of interest to me was “protecting vulnerable groups Ofcom or
Tim Suter (Ofcom’s Partner for content and standards)
introduced the session, but unfortunately right from the start he ended any
final hopes that I had that there might be any discussion over the real
issues by saying that he would not be discussing “individual points” - so no
chance of finding any answers to the question concerning proportionality,
consistency or evidence based regulation then. After a very carefully worded
introduction explaining the official Ofcom position in the matter he handed
over to the speakers:
So here is an alternative scenario for which I can
provide no specific references or guarantees other than to say the sources
The Government are certainly not going to be in favour
of allowing R18 in an election year, but nevertheless want to be rid of the
issue which is seen as something of a poisoned chalice where there is
nothing to gain and everything to loose. So the Government have ducked the
issue and passed the poisoned chalice to Ofcom in the hope that they will
sort it out. Ofcom have sat on the issue for a while and are now going
through their consultation process.
On the 5th October the consultation ends and
the poisoned chalice passes to the content board. They will ‘consider’ the
matter for a few more months, but there are a number of problems. Firstly
several members of the content board will refuse to agree to R18 regardless
of any arguments made by anyone under any circumstances and a number of
others whilst not ruling it out, are unlikely to be sympathetic. It is
possible that common sense will prevail, but unlikely. The fact that the
Daily Mail published photos of the people responsible for the R18 decision
in 2000 is also unlikely to spur them on, so it is probable that the content
board will make its final recommendation that R18 remain prohibited and pass
the poison chalice on to the main Ofcom board.
The Ofcom board will be faced with a difficult dilemma.
Do they accept the recommendation or go against it? If they are brave and
honest they will override the content board, allow R18 and will undoubtedly
incur the wrath of the Daily Mail, but on the other hand if they prohibit it
there are serious costs and risks which might be damaging to the reputation
of Ofcom as I will explain below. It is not at all clear what they will do.
Assuming they decide in favour of a prohibition, the poison chalice would
then be pasted to its final recipient - the courts. Because make no mistake,
if Ofcom refuse to allow R18 content on subscription television such action
will result in a very substantial legal action against them.
The courts will have no option but to resolve the
issue. So this is where the real test of proportionality and consistency may
occur. Unfortunately for Ofcom there is no evidence and the total ban is
clearly disproportionate and inconsistent and as Ofcom have a legal duty to
apply consistent and proportionate regulation at all times
(Communications Act 3(3)(a)) they are likely to loose. The cause is doomed
from the start. In fact it almost appears if they want it to fail, having
already publicly admitted that there is no evidence. Depending on the legal
advice the Ofcom board receive, they might even consider overruling the
content board on legal grounds.
If the courts decide in favour of R18, which appears
very likely, the Government and both Ofcom boards will wring their hands and
say oh dear how terrible, but it wasn’t our fault… we did try. It’s not so
much the rights and wrongs of the issue that count, what appears to be most
important to them is who gets to carry the blame and how this can be
avoided. Cynical, unjust, wrong and dishonourable are words that spring to
mind, but this is politics. Such an eventuality would of course destroy any
credibility and integrity that the content board had in the eyes of many.
Yet perhaps I am being unkind. The consultation is not
even over yet and it is still entirely possible that Ofcom may do the right
thing. Only time will tell.
Playboy were threatened with a fine by Ofcom in response to problems over
taped records of a nights viewing. In response to general concerns about the
suitability of programmes on some adult channels, Playboy TV was asked to
supply a tape of its output for 2 July.
Playboy TV said that it had suffered a power cut on 1 July and produced a
letter of confirmation from its electricity supplier. But Ofcom were not
impressed concluding that: As no recording of output was available, we
were unable to view the channel’s output. It is a licence requirement that
broadcasters retain suitable recordings of their output. Failure to do so is
a serious breach of licence conditions. Any repetition of such a failure
would result in the consideration of a statutory sanction.
Thanks to John
The CSA (equivalent of OfCom) head and right wing politicians were trying to
roll back French freedoms to watch hardcore on cable and satellite in July
2002, claiming that the need for digital decoders, and the late night
broadcasting were not sufficient protection to let France meet its duty to
protect minors under the Television Without Frontiers directive.
This prompted the European Commission to say that the would be censors were
going too far. In a letter to France's CSA broadcasting regulator in October
2002 the EU Culture and Education Commissioner Viviane Reding said that she
believed France was already fulfilling its responsibilities under the
Television Without Borders legislation protecting minors.
Given that French systems do not all require credit cards to access, and are
not all PIN protected, then this answers without any shadow of doubt one of
OfCom's RIA section 39 questions, and demolishes the lynch pin of the status
39. ... If it (the prohibition on R18) is not to be maintained then Ofcom
seeks information on what technical protections or other protections are
available which could ensure the protection of people under eighteen (and
others who do not wish to access the material)?
In the view of the European Commissioner responsible for broadcasting and
the administration of the Television Without Frontiers directive, current
measures equivalent to those already in place in the UK (the requirements
for a set top Sky/Cable box and late night broadcasting) allow France to
fully meet its TWF directive obligations to protect minors, and would
therefore allow the UK to meet its obligations.
Additional measures such as PIN protection and mandatory adult verification
on subscription would provide additional protection, though OfCom should
note that these would be in excess of those required by the TWF directive.
Based on an article from
With the proliferation of live reality shows on mainstream television,
strong language abounds. Predictably, the media regulator Ofcom is seeking
to impose its views.
Conceding that viewers are used to strong swearwords soon after the
watershed, Ofcom said it was unacceptable to combine such language with
The regulator has therefore decided it was happy for celebrity chef Gordon
Ramsay to turn the air blue with "fuck and its derivatives" when tormenting
his contestants on Hell's Kitchen, but "fucking Jesus" was too far. While
fuck and Jesus are fine on their own, running them together causes
Research indicates that the combination of strong swearing coupled
directly with holy names is found highly offensive by believers. Like the
broadcaster, we believe that the combination of a holy name and a strong
expletive could not be justified in this context, Ofcom said, censuring
ITV after complaints.
The key word, it seems, was fucking - because in the same set of rulings,
Ofcom decided ITV did not breach its programme code when Tanya Turner, the
bitchiest of the Footballers' Wives bitches, exclaimed "Jesus shitting
Christ" after a love rival spiked her sunscreen with a skin irritant.
It may not be obvious to most viewers, but broadcasters have strict rules
for expletives. On shows such as Hell's Kitchen, which include a substantial
portion of live programming and participants with a propensity for
profanity, there are people employed to count the fucks.
In its defence, ITV said its "compliance" procedures on Hell's Kitchen were
strong. There was a warning at the beginning of the programme, and swearing
in the early parts of each ITV1 programme were bleeped, in an attempt to
ease in viewers to Ramsay's style. All live broadcasts were subject to a
Ramsay's robust manner was familiar from his other TV appearances and was
the subject of media comment surrounding the programme. All of this is
generally enough to satisfy TV regulators who know viewers are usually most
offended by the unexpected.
But ITV said the phrase "fucking Jesus" was a mistake which had
through under high pressure and against very tight deadlines.
After the lapse, procedures were tightened.
Ofcom accepted most of ITV's defence but the use of a holy name linked to
a strong expletive was in breach of the programme code.
Kitchens seem to bring out the worst in people: Ofcom recently criticised
another chef, Tom Aikens, for using the phrase "Jesus fucking Christ" in a
Aikens, who has won two Michelin stars, made the remark in an episode of
BBC2's Trouble at the Top after coming under pressure as he tried to open a
Ofcom said the expression was one of the most offensive and one that
broadcasters should use with caution.
OfWatch who are campaigning for R18's to be broadcast on UK pay TV.
There is a public consultation where responses really will help the cause.
Mail on Sunday confirm Ofcom's plans to
Unfortunately there was no mention of Ofwatch in the half page article
about R18 on TV published by the Mail today. We suspect that the whole truth
was a little too unpalatable for them. However, despite some inaccurate
moral sabre rattling in the headline, they did present a reasonably accurate
picture of the current situation, even making reference to the arrival of
the Human Rights Act, the deregulation of R18 on video and the Government's
change in position concerning the proscription of foreign channels that
broadcast hardcore material in Britain.
Some intriguing claims also came to light. It was reported that some
Ofcom officials have been privately advising executives within the 'adult'
entertainment industry to expect a relaxation of the law within the next
year on subscription channels (presumably they meant a relaxation in the
regulations). A director of one of Britain's major pornography companies was
also reported to have said I was advised off the record by Ofcom that while
they are worried about the content of the free-to-view channels, it was
their judgment that within the next 12 months R18 films would be available.
I am surprised they publicly denied it so vehemently because people at Ofcom
are saying that the relaxation of the laws surrounding R18 films is an
The Industry certainly believes that a change is coming as can be seen by
the number of recent applications for new 'adult' services. Sport television
has applied to Sky for four new adult channels, along with talks of buying
up six existing channels. Andrew McIntyre , managing director of Sport
Television, was reported to have said "I do believe a relaxation will
happen. If a change in policy is carried out and we are able to show R18
videos, it will mean a phenomenal increase in profits because there is
clearly massive demand for this product".
Huw Rossiter, head of media at Ofcom was reported as saying,
simply posing the question in our consultation as to whether this ban
should continue. Our recommendation is that it should. We would have to have
very strong evidence that under-18's can be protected from harm and offence
before we considered changing it.
But there is very strong evidence right under his nose that under 18's
can be protected by use of encryption, proof of age at subscription and PIN
security. We suspect that in reality Huw Rossiter is simply trying to damp
down any possibility of a moral panic story developing. Nevertheless the
question must be asked, why is strong evidence of protection required when
there is no evidence of harm? The statement is a serious misrepresentation
of the reality concerning 'harm' and 'evidence' and is unacceptable from a
'communications regulator' at any time, regardless of the intention. Ofcom
would do better to limit itself to accurate representations of the facts.
Perhaps the most telling point of all was the positioning of the article.
If this matter really was a serious concern to the public the Mail would
undoubtedly have put it on the front page with a more lurid headline. The
fact that it is buried at the bottom of page 11 shows that it has become a
non issue. Ofwatch doubt if there remains sufficient public interest for a
major moral hoo-ha. Time will tell.
Notable by their absence were Mediawatch.
Ofcom have fined a pornographic satellite
television channel £50,000 for broadcasting graphic sex too early in the
Digital Television Production aired the sexually explicit images of
simulated intercourse and orgasm between 8:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. on April 8 on
its XplicitXXX [Note that the channel is softcore and is
neither explicit or XXX rated] service on a free-to-air basis to
promote the normally encrypted channel.
Regulator Ofcom said it did not receive any viewer calls about the April
8 material, but had heard previous complaints about the channel for similar
transgressions. One of Digital Television's rivals alerted Ofcom to the
six-minute promotional loop that violated separate rules governing taste and
decency, family viewing time and sex and nudity.
It is the first fine against a broadcaster imposed by Ofcom, which was
formed last December to consolidate previous regulatory agencies. It can
impose penalties up to £250,000
The fined company told Ofcom's sanctions committee that airing the
material, which included a caption promoting the film Anal Cream Pie
before the 9 p.m. watershed and ahead of its usual encrypted broadcast of 10
p.m. was not deliberate nor an attempt to seek more market share in the
cut-throat world of adult entertainment, according to the regulator's
Instead, a substitute scheduler "mistakenly confused two tapes in
identical containers", which led to the early screening, regulators said.
Ofcom said the company lacked appropriate management control and took a
complacent attitude toward the interests of children, who might have caught
glimpse of the pornography. It said Digital Television had pledged to curb
such mistakes after confronted about similar incidents in the past.
Officials for Digital Television, which told regulators that a large fine
could cripple the company because it loses money, could not immediately be
reached for comment.
Ofcom have now published their
consultancy paper on TV content regulation.
They still recommend that films banned by the BBFC should be prohibited
along with R18 material. On a positive note they at least present the option
of allowing R18s. Also on a very brief reading I didn't spot anything about
only allowing the BBFC video version.
I urge all Melon Farmers to respond to the consultation. We need to
convince that there is little support for their assumption of censorship and
their potential denial of our human rights.
In addition some of their points are puerile. Their suggestion that
censorship may assist commercial interests of current broadcasters who have
stockpiled a whole load of softcore material that no-one will want takes the
mick. They have acknowledged in this reasoning that hardcore is massively
what people want yet they recommend illegal censorship for the sake of
www.ofwatch.org.uk. for details on how to make your views felt
Ofcom are considering two possibilities concerning R18 content on
Option one - continue the prohibition on R18s, and R18
standard material and maintain 'adult' material restrictions Ofcom could
continue the stance taken by previous regulators with a prohibition on the
transmission of R18s and maintain the restrictions regarding the
transmission of 'adult' sex material.
Option two - if appropriate safeguards are in place - remove or change
the rules regarding R18s and R18 standard material and 'adult' material
Under section 6 of the Act, Ofcom has a duty to ensure that it does
not impose or maintain unnecessary regulatory burdens. It may now be the
case that the technology exists to protect the under eighteens from R18s,
R18 standard material and 'adult' sex material (before 2200) and also
protect those adults who do not want to see such material by mistake while
allowing adults who have made a deliberate decision to view it.
The status quo will prevail regarding a prohibition on R18s, and R18
standard material and also on a 2200 start for 'adult' sex material plus the
other protections currently in place regarding 'adult' sex material. It will
only change if it can be established that there are sufficient safeguards
(technical and otherwise) to protect persons under eighteen, and ensure that
adults who do not wish to see such material are adequately protected from
harm and offence.
3. Whether the transmission of R18s and R18 standard material is
compatible with the requirements of the Act and TWF Directive relating to
the protection of minors
Whether such material should be prohibited or allowed on certain
If it is allowed, whether those under eighteen, and adults who do not
wish to view this material, can be adequately protected (by technical or
Whether the restrictions regarding 'adult' television services should
be changed and if so with what protections
39. This consultation seeks responses regarding the present
prohibition on transmitting R18s and, consequently, R18 standard material.
Should the prohibition be lifted or maintained? If it is not to be
maintained then Ofcom seeks information on what technical protections or
other protections are available which could ensure the protection of people
under eighteen (and others who do not wish to access the material). Further,
if the prohibition is lifted, on which services should it be lifted?
40. The R18 category is a special and legally restricted BBFC
classification for explicit videos of consenting sex between adults. (The
BBFC guidelines regarding R18s can be found on the BBFC website at
www.bbfc.co.uk) The BBFC are currently classifying some 1400 videos in the
R18 category a year. Such material may presently be supplied to adults only,
over the counter, in licensed sex shops.
41. The content guidelines for R18s were significantly revised by the
BBFC in 2000. Only material distributed in a form that attracts
classification under the VRA - essentially videos and DVDs - is required to
observe the VRA's restrictions. (The VRA does not prohibit the transmission
of R18s on television.)
42. R18 standard material refers to material which has not been
offered to the BBFC for classification, e.g. live sex shows or amateur
videos, but if it were to be classified would be of R18 standard. This also
covers foreign material which does not go through the BBFC system.
43. Section 1.4 of the ITC Programme Code stated that "No R18 film
should be transmitted at any time". R18 standard material is also
44. The UK government can, and has, on the regulator's recommendation,
proscribed services which are licensed abroad but which transmit R18
standard material into the UK. It has previously proscribed five services.
45. In order to recommend such a proscription to the Secretary of
State the ITC had to be satisfied that the trade for the service existed in
the UK. These proscriptions could in themselves be seen as evidence that
some broadcasters wish to provide such services and that there are viewers
who wish to receive them.
46. Ofcom is required to set standards which maintain generally
accepted standards as required under section 319(2)(f) of the Act. The
public must be adequately protected from the inclusion of offensive and
harmful material in programmes as judged against generally accepted
standards. Ofcom is also required to set standards to protect people under
eighteen. The TWF Directive also requires that nothing is included in
television broadcasts which might seriously impair the physical, mental or
moral development of minors.
47. In a survey of public opinion of 1200 adults commissioned by the
BSC and ITC (The Public's View 2002) it was found that 76% agreed that
people should be allowed to pay extra to view particularly sexually explicit
programmes on subscription services. The survey did not distinguish between
R18s and R18 standard material and more commonly available 'adult' material.
48. The government has found no compelling evidence of harm to adults
as R18s were made legally available in 2000. However the regulatory impact
analysis of a government consultation paper on the regulation of R18 videos,
published in 2000, explains the precautionary approach regarding children
and R18s: "There is always a risk of age-restricted material, such as
tobacco or alcohol, falling into the hands of, and being misused by,
children. Unlike tobacco and alcohol, which are widely available, there is
no known and substantiated health or other risk associated with watching a
video which has been given an R18 classification. However, there is
widespread public concern about the possibility of children viewing sexually
explicit material which is clearly unsuitable for them and the Government
takes the common sense view that exposure to such material at an early age
may be harmful to children. There is, therefore, a need to ensure that
controls on the distribution and viewing of these videos is as stringent as
49. Ofcom also seeks responses as to whether the restrictions
currently in place regarding transmitting 'adult' sex material on certain
premium subscription services and on Pay Per View (PPV) and Pay Per Night (PPN)
services should be changed and if so on what services and with what
50. The ITC Programme Code does allow latitude for certain premium
subscription services available to adults who have specifically chosen them
in section 1.4(i). They must comply with measures that ensure the subscriber
is an adult and may transmit such material only between 2200 and 0530.
51. Separately in the ITC Programme Code watershed rules may be waived
for pay-per-view services "where security mechanisms, such as a PIN system
or equivalent, satisfactorily restrict access to films or programmes solely
to those authorised to view. The mandatory security mechanism and the
safeguards that it provides for children must be clearly explained to all
subscribers. It should normally be supported by a detailed billing system
that enables subscribers to check all viewing and, in particular,
out-of-watershed viewing. In addition operators are expected to implement a
suitable film classification system, or equivalent, and to provide any
additional information about programme content and reasons for any
restrictions that might assist parents and other adults to judge the
suitability of material for children. However such services must still
"exercise cautionls in daytime and in 'adult' sex material" must still
comply with the 2200 to 0530 transmission rule.
52. Some argue that the restrictions in place regarding R18s, R18
standard material and 'adult' material are unnecessary regulation and a
restriction on freedom of expression and choice. But other stakeholder
groups regard such material as so innately offensive and potentially harmful
to adults as well as under eighteens that they consider a prohibition on R18
and R18 standard material an absolute necessity. Some want 'adult' sex
material prohibited as well.
53. To remove or change the rules which prohibit R18s and R18 standard
material and to waive the 2200 rule and/or associated rules regarding
'adult' sex material would be an important change affecting broadcasters and
consumers with significant commercial impact.
54. Option one - continue the prohibition on R18s, and R18 standard
material and maintain 'adult' material restrictions Ofcom could continue the
stance taken by previous regulators with a prohibition on the transmission
of R18s and maintain the restrictions regarding the transmission of 'adult'
sex material as described above.
55. Option two - if appropriate safeguards are in place - remove or
change the rules regarding R18s and R18 standard material and 'adult'
Under section 6 of the Act, Ofcom has a duty to ensure that it does
not impose or maintain unnecessary regulatory burdens. It may now be the
case that the technology exists to protect the under eighteens from R18s,
R18 standard material and 'adult' sex material (before 2200) and also
protect those adults who do not want to see such material by mistake while
allowing adults who have made a deliberate decision to view it.
56. Option one would continue to protect the under eighteens and also
be based on the assumption that such material is so potentially offensive to
society that its transmission would be a breach of generally accepted
57. The basis for retaining the restrictions on 'adult' sex material
on certain premium subscription services would be that the restrictions are
necessary to prevent those under the age of eighteen accessing this material
and so the restrictions protect under eighteens. Also it prevents offence to
adults who do not wish to see such material.
58. The benefit of option two would be that it would give viewers
greater choice. Many of the member states of Europe allow the broadcast
transmission of R18s. This would bring the UK into line with Europe. There
would be new channels offering such material and other channels would be
able to schedule more freely, potentially bringing in new subscribers
thereby increasing the revenues that such channels receive.
59. The disadvantages of option one would be that it may be out of
line with public opinion, limit choice for adults and inhibit the commercial
development of existing and potential services.
60. The disadvantages of option two are that under eighteens may not
be sufficiently protected and adults may be exposed to potential offence.
Furthermore Ofcom would have to employ a person or persons to view and
regulate such material. That might lead to an increase in regulatory costs
61. There may also be an adverse economic impact on television
services presently supplying 'adult' sex material via premium subscription
services or via PPV or PPN. These services have built up a stock of material
permitted by the ITC and may find themselves at a disadvantage. They risk
losing viewers and may have to acquire fresh stock making old stock
62. The status quo will prevail regarding a prohibition on R18s, and
R18 standard material and also on a 2200 start for 'adult' sex material plus
the other protections currently in place regarding 'adult' sex material. It
will only change if it can be established that there are sufficient
safeguards (technical and otherwise) to protect persons under eighteen, and
ensure that adults who do not wish to see such material are adequately
protected from harm and offence.
for complete paper
Sir Christopher Meyer, the chairman of the Press Complaints Commission,
believes that Ofcom, the new super-regulator for the media, should be
stripped of its powers to censure broadcasters over matters of taste and
In an interview with The Telegraph, Meyer said that the state should not be
involved in censoring the output of the media. I believe it is an area
from which regulators in the end will have to withdraw It is going to be a
matter of what the public is prepared to take and what it isn't. He
argues that members of the public can complain to broadcasters if they find
material offensive and that it should therefore be up to media organisations
to regulate their own output.
His remarks come at a sensitive time for Ofcom, which is preparing to launch
its draft policy on programming standards. The draft, which will be
published for consultation next month, will replace the current ITC code,
which Ofcom adopted after it formally took over the regulation of all media
and telecommunications at the start of the year.
A spokesman for Ofcom said:
Under the Communications Act 2003 the term
'taste and decency' no longer applies in the regulation of television. The
new criterion is 'harm and offence', which will be included in Ofcom's new
programme code being published for consultation next month.
Well, I emailed Ofcom to ask why the Adult Channel had reverted back to
it's softcore farcical programming and this is the reply I got, doesn't make
Thank you for contacting us about this subject. I doubt that anything I say
will alter your opinion that 'hardcore' material should be allowed on Ofcom
licensed adult services. But I hope that I can at least demonstrate that our
policy is a considered one that seeks to balance the various interests.
Adult services have been allowed on cable and satellite services for a
decade now. They include programming more explicit than would be allowed on
free-to-air or basic package channels. Much of the programming is cut down
hardcore. Our research indicates, however, that public opinion does not
favour a move to wholly explicit programming of the sort now available in
'R18'-rated videos. These videos are available only in licensed sex shops,
and the broadcasters have to respect the law on this matter.
So a balance is struck between the legitimate wishes of adults to see sex
programming and concerns over child protection. Broadcasting is not
obviously suited to providing material otherwise available only in a hundred
or so specialist shops where access by children can be easily policed. Even
where encryption and other security measures can be applied, the wide
distribution of the most explicit material must be a significant issue.
Thank you for raising this with us.
Broadcast Team Officer - Contact Centre
Office of Communications
2A Southwark Bridge Road
London SE1 9HA
Despite the fact that there has been no official change in policy, no
reissuing of the programme code and no comment from Ofcom, broadcasting
standards for adult content have changed noticeably in the last year. This
has been possible because the existing code is vague and contradictory and
some of the adult service broadcasters feel less intimidated by Ofcom than
they did of the ITC.
In 2002 the Adult Channel was severely reprimanded by the Independent
Television Commission for showing what it euphemistically called
"unacceptably explicit anatomical details", which is regulator speak for a
women's inner labia having been shown on television. This reprimand was the
result of a complaint from a single viewer. With the very real threat of 5
figure fines being imposed on any broadcaster who crossed the ITC's line of
acceptability, it was hardly surprising that broadcasters were not very keen
to push the limits after that. That was until it became clear that the ITC
had lost interest in persecuting adult service broadcasters.
By late 2003 this time had arrived with the ITC firmly focused on the
hand over to Ofcom at the end of the year. So some of the braver
broadcasters decided to test the waters. At some point last year XplicitXXX
started transmission of the previously forbidden content, although explicit
penetration was still considered too dangerous to show, as this would have
been in direct violation of the R18 prohibition.
The old ITC rules state that free-to-air services are permitted to
broadcast 18-certificate material late at night and that subscription
services can show material that is stronger than is permitted on
free-to-air services. But the rules also state that R18 content is
prohibited on all channels at all times. The ITC had previously managed this
paradox by a private arrangement telling broadcasters what was or was not
acceptable. When Ofcom took over in 2004 they appeared to be much more
interested in public service broadcasting and mega TV mergers than in the
micro management of satellite porn, so "explicit anatomical details" are now
a standard part of broadcasts every night on at least two channels. What was
previously slightly stronger than "18" is now slightly weaker than "R18".
As far as Ofwatch is aware there have been no complaints whatsoever
concerning the new more explicit content, indeed all of the viewers
contacted to date have been delighted. Whether this lack of complaints will
continue probably depends more on Mediawatch than the viewers, as Mediawatch
were responsible for the previous "complaint" about the Adult Channel in
2002. It is to be hoped that Ofcom will see through any Mediawatch based
complaint as a simple case of gaming the regulator. Perhaps even Mediawatch
can now see the writing on the wall. With the existing content already
showing cunnilingus, inner labia, varying degrees of penile erection and
ejaculate, there can be little doubt that R18 content is generally accepted
by the viewers and that its introduction is now inevitable.
Thanks to Paul at
Ofcom’s work priorities favour broadcasters over consumers and citizens
Ofcom has published its draft annual plan for
regulatory work during 2004/2005. A great deal of work has been planned, but
two projects are of particular note:
To develop a new licensing regime for broadcasters, foster self-regulation
and broaden citizen-consumer choice. It will enable public service
broadcasters to self regulate and progress toward digital switchover through
To implement changes in broadcasting content regulation to deliver
additional citizen-consumer benefits. It will involve a review of broadcast
standards to ensure they appropriately reflect community standards and
ensure content complaints are dealt with effectively and efficiently.
Both projects are admirable, but it is unfortunate that
Ofcom have decided to start with D1 rather than D2 for a number of reasons.
The primary focus of project D1 (licensing regulation) is mainly of
concern to broadcasters and regulators, whereas the primary focus of project
D2 (content regulation) is of direct concern to citizens and consumers.
Whilst the drive to digital switch over (D1) is undeniably important for
consumers and citizens it will not happen for many years and licensing
issues are not the rate-determining step in any case, so although D1 is
important it is not urgent.
It would also appear more logical to establish the new
content standards (D2) and then allow the broadcasters to manage them via
self-regulation (D1), rather than to allow broadcasters to manage the
existing ITC content standard and then try to change the standard that they
As a new regulator with a core responsibility under the
Communications Act to implement a fresh approach to content regulation it is
hard to see why the most fundamental tier 1 broadcasting standards should
have anything other than the highest priority. A new approach to tier 1
standards could also be decisive in demonstrating that Ofcom really is
something more than the ITC in a different guise.
The regulatory framework under which many specialist
subscription services currently operate no longer serves the best interests
of either citizens or consumers. There can be little doubt that for a
minority of consumers at least, the need for change is now long over due.
The regulation of adult content in particular cannot be considered to be
transparent or joined up and the advertising of such services regularly
mislead viewers to expect content that they will not receive.
The ITC were loath to make any significant changes to
the programme code during the run up to the launch of Ofcom and for a very
considerable period before that. During this period of regulatory stagnation
the position of the authorities in other “joined up” areas has changed as
can be seen from the current position of the BBFC regarding sexually
explicit material at both 18 and R18.
The existing ITC code is now in an unstable condition
following the removal of some of it’s under pinning by the Communications
Act. Whilst the code will remain in force until replaced by Ofcom, there is
every possibility that confusion may arise concerning how a “heavy touch”
regulatory guideline should be interpreted in a “light touch” regulatory
Ofcom has invited comments from the public concerning
their work plan and will be holding meetings with stakeholders in Glasgow,
Cardiff, Belfast Manchester and London to explain the proposed priorities
and to gather the opinions of interested parties.
Ofcom's work plan
I will be attending the meeting in London on the 13th
February to put this case to them and will report back on developments -
watch this space
Ofcom, which has replaced five existing regulators, attracted
controversy long before it assumed its powers this year. Its
1,200 staff are based at offices on the banks of the Thames - and 28 of
them earn more than £100,000 a year.
Ofcom's nine board members will exert a powerful influence
over the UK's industry, overseeing everything from the
development of broadband internet access in the UK to newspaper
mergers, the consolidation of the radio and television
industries and the future of public service broadcasting.
The appointment of Labour peer Lord Currie of Marylebone
prompted inevitable accusations of cronyism. A party donor,
albeit on a small scale, he resigned the party whip to take up
the post. Currie is a former adviser to Tony Blair, but he is
also regarded as a key ally of the Chancellor. Currie is an
academic and economist who is Dean of City University's Business
School in London. He is paid £133,000 a year for the
four-day-a-week post at Ofcom.
Carter was previously managing director of debt-ridden cable
company NTL. Shortly after his appointment, it emerged that he
received a £1.6 million bonus from NTL, even though it filed for
Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2002. Carter is also a
former chief executive of advertising agency J Walter Thompson,
and beat Independent Television Committee chief executive
Patricia Hodgson to the Ofcom job. Carter was on the shortlist
for no fewer than three other top media jobs before his Ofcom
appointment - at Trinity Mirror, publisher Emap, and Channel
Banerjee is a telecoms specialist who spent 25 years at BT.
Her experience will be vital in Ofcom's battles with BT over the
price of internet access. Banerjee is also a non-executive
director of Channel 4 and a former director of the Prison Board.
She resigned in 1995 after Conservative leader Michael Howard,
then Home Secretary, sacked the director-general of the Prison
Services, Derek Lewis.
David Edmonds was director general of telecoms regulator
Oftel until it was wound up last year. He is one of several
board members to be appointed directly from the regulators
replaced by Ofcom. At Oftel, Edmonds took on BT - forcing it to
open up its network to competition - and the big four mobile
phone operators - over the amount they charge for calls made
between networks. One of three major reviews announced by Ofcom
centres on the price BT charges for wholesale internet access.
Hargreaves, a former editor of the Independent, is the only
member of the Ofcom board with direct experience of running a
national newspaper. His knowledge is likely to prove useful if
the Telegraph group is auctioned off by Hollinger. Ofcom will be
required to subject any bids to a public interest test.
Hargreaves is director of corporate affairs at BAA and Professor
of Journalism at Cardiff University. He is a trustee of
left-leaning think tank Demos, and was a member of the
Chancellor's Social Investment Task Force.
Richard Hooper is also chairman of Ofcom's Content Board. As
such, he is responsible for standards of taste and decency on UK
television. He will be assisted by an eclectic mix of 'content'
board members, including ex-Telewest chairman Adam Singer,
triple-jumper Jonathan Edwards and former children's TV
presenter Floella Benjamin.
Hooper started his career as a producer at the BBC. He was
chairman of the Radio Authority, one of the five industry
regulators Ofcom has replaced.
Nathan is a former radio producer, editor of Channel 4 News
at ITN and ex-member of the now defunct Radio Authority. She
left ITN in 1997 after Channel 4's then chief executive, Michael
Jackson, invited bids from other companies besides ITN for the
channel's news contract, in an effort to woo younger viewers.
Senior Partner, Strategy and Market Development
Richards is a former New Labour adviser who has been called
one of the key architects of the Communications Act. He joined
Ofcom directly from Number 10, where he was Blair's senior
policy adviser on the media. Richards is leading Ofcom's
12-month review of public service broadcasting, which will feed
into the BBC's charter review.
Senior Partner, Competition and Content
A management consultant by training, Meek is overseeing a
review of the airwaves. The review will eventually lead to the
introduction of a trading system allowing companies to sell
spectrum access on to third parties. It could also lead to new
charges for the TV and radio companies that use the spectrum.
Public service broadcasters currently enjoy free access.
Office of Communications
A regulator with multiple
roles. Roles of Interest to Melon Farmers are:
TV censors for nearly all radio/TV/cable/satellite except for the
Internet censors for Video on Demand. This task has been
delegated to ATVOD but Ofcom retain teh absiolute authority
Internet censors for copyright/file sharing issues
Advert Censors for the limited role of TV channels which exist
mainly to advertise premium rate telephone services (such as babe
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