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20th December   

The Hype of Rome...

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Melon Farmers logoRe Rome, BBC2, 2 November 2005, 21:00

Introduction

The first episode of this new 11-part drama attracted 25 complaints. Most viewers objected to the general tone of the drama, some describing it as pornographic. Some viewers also considered that the violence was unacceptable in a programme shown immediately after the 21:00 watershed - one viewer complaining about a rape scene and another the religious sacrifice of a bull.

Decision

The first episode set out the historical context of the power struggle between Julius Caesar and Pompey. Julius Caesar’s victorious war in Gaul was undermining Pompey’s political power in Rome.

With this background established, the Roman soldiers were seen in battle defeating the tribes in Gaul . The violence showed the brutality of war but it was not gratuitous and did so without dwelling on any graphic images. A scene of rape was not shown in detail. No close up shots were shown and the focus was on the other soldiers’ impatience to return to Rome . The other scenes of violence were limited, set in this historical context and were unlikely to encourage imitation.

The sexual elements in this episode were frank, but not overly explicit for this time of evening. The drama showed the matter-of-fact attitude to sex of the ruling class as, in some cases, sex was used to further political or social aspirations. One of the main female characters, Atia, sister of Julius Caesar, appeared to have no scruples in using sex as a bargaining tool to achieve her ends. Although there was some nudity in these sexual encounters, the scenes did not concentrate unduly on the sexual activity. Atia’s son, Octavian, was a teenage boy and his mother discussed political matters with him whilst taking a bath. She saw no embarrassment in the situation, whilst he was not comfortable with his mother’s attitude towards nudity and sex, as well her political machinations. Following her son’s dispatch to Gaul , Atia is seen praying for him as a bull was sacrificed above her, covering her in blood. This was presented in the context of a religious ritual. The sacrifice was not seen in detail.

Later on in the episode, Pompey attended a play in a marketplace. On stage, a character wore an exaggerated phallus. As the play continued in the background, Pompey was introduced to a potential wife, who commented on the crudity of play to signify that she was highborn.

We appreciate that this content may not be to every viewer’s taste, as it attempted to portray Roman life. However the drama had received widespread publicity about this approach. An announcement informed viewers that:

The battle to rule an empire begins now, and with so much at stake, it gets pretty bloody. So, expect language, sex, violence and scenes of ritual animal slaughter as an epic new drama unfolds and BBC 2 enters Rome .

We considered that the pre-publicity, the announcement and the build up within the drama would have given parents and carers sufficient information to make a considered decision about whether to allow children to view this programme. After 21:00 it is generally accepted that more adult material may be shown and, in our view, the content did not go beyond viewers’ expectations for programming at this time of the evening, in the context of this historical drama set in Rome .

The programme was not in breach of the Code

 

20th December   

From One Big Brother to Another...

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Melon Farmers logoThe sixth series of Big Brother has been criticised for operating "at the limits of acceptability" by broadcasting watchdog Ofcom. It rebuked Channel 4 over sexual scenes in which Makosi and Anthony appeared to have sex in the pool, and Kinga simulated sex with a wine bottle.

Big Brother presenter Davina McCall was cleared of racial discrimination over what some viewers complained was a hostile interview with Zimbabwean contestant Makosi. Ofcom also cleared the programme-makers of introducing racist elements to boost ratings in the reality show, where the contestants appeared to split into two groups along racial lines.

Of a total 887 complaints about the series, Ofcom received 259 specifically over the infamous Kinga scenes.

Channel 4 admitted "the incident was a shocking one", but it said it had an obligation to show the scenes to give viewers a true picture of events in the house. It said the images, which went out after the watershed and following warnings to viewers, were edited so only a minimum amount of footage went in the programme.

Ofcom said Kinga's drunken antics "did amount to potentially dangerous behaviour" but it said that it was unlikely to have encouraged copycat behaviour from viewers. The message was that this was "not behaviour to be condoned or encouraged" because Kinga regretted her actions and the housemates were not impressed. It said the episode was not in breach of the broadcasting code, but added:
We should stress that we only decided this 'on balance' and that our concerns were serious. This programme, in our view, along with the (scenes of) Anthony and Makosi in the pool, operated at the limits of acceptability, in terms of potential harm and/or offence for a programme of this nature, broadcast on this channel and at this time.

 

15th December   

More Self Consultation...

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Melon Farmers logoSee Ofwatch for further discussion of these consultations

Ofcom are consulting over their planned schedule of regulatory activity for 2006/2007. Many visitors here may be suffering from consultation overload, but despite the recent set backs and the lack of willingness of our regulatory friends at Ofcom to consider regulatory issues surrounding adult service broadcasting in an appropriate and proportionate manner we will continue to press them on these issues.

We have attempted to extract the salient bits from this consultation document. If you don’t agree with what has been said please don’t write to us write to Ofcom! We will be responding to this consultation in the new year. Of the nine areas of activity that Ofcom consider to be a priority at least 5 of them are likely to impact on adult service subscribers for better or worse:

3. Continued deregulation – continuing to explore opportunities to reduce and better target regulation, taking account of the latest regulatory thinking, such as the recommendations of the Hampton Review.

4. Next generation deployment – understanding how the next generation of telecoms networks and services are evolving and considering the implications for regulation, both in the core network and in the access network, which can be used for higher-speed broadband.

6. Content delivery – understanding how new methods of delivering internet and media content are creating opportunities for innovation and examining the potential benefits for citizens and consumers. We will also consider the implications for regulation and ensure appropriate protection for children.

7. Consumer protection – taking enforcement action to protect both consumers and citizens, handling complaints effectively and promoting media literacy.

9. International engagement – seeking to influence the way that regulatory policy evolves, in particular, the new EU directive on TV and other audio-visual content, the revised EU framework for electronic communications and international negotiations on spectrum, including the Regional Radio Conference 2006.

 

7th December   

A Frosty Warning...

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Melon Farmers logoA depiction of a murder in the popular detective series A Touch of Frost has landed ITV in trouble after a viewer complained that it was unsuitable to be shown before the watershed.

ITV has been found in breach of the Broadcasting Code for the episode, screened on September 25 at 8.20pm. It showed a mother and daughter getting ready for bed, while an intruder lurked in their house. The daughter was then seen unconscious in the bathroom, then the intruder attacked the mother.

In a further scene, after the ad break, Jack Frost, who is played by Sir David Jason, was shown at the scene of the murder inspecting the body of the mother, who was shown stabbed and bound on the bedroom floor.

ITV did not broadcast a warning about violent scenes in the programme because it did not consider it necessary. It said that the character of Jack Frost was well established and that the show did not include graphic violence, nor was it different to the approach taken by the show in other episodes.

Ofcom agreed that, in the context of a crime series, the portrayal of the attack and aftermath were not excessive. However, in its ruling it said that research showed that violence in a domestic setting may be particularly upsetting to children. The sinister build-up in the family home, the attack on the mother and the images of her bloodied body were all potentially disturbing elements, particularly to children. As this episode was scheduled before the watershed and would appeal to a wide-ranging audience, we believe that an announcement about the content would have been helpful to viewers in allowing them to make an informed choice of whether to view with their children.

It ruled that ITV was in breach of the code regarding information about content.

 

24th November   

New Content...

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Melon Farmers logoPhilip Graf was today appointed as Deputy Chairman of Ofcom, Sean Williams appointed as Executive Director on the Ofcom Board and Polly Weitzman appointed as General Counsel.

Graf will also chair the Ofcom Content Board, which has responsibility for the regulation of television and radio quality and standards. He will be replacing Richard Hooper. Although this is unlikely to lead to any significant short term policy changes a new person in charge may be of benefit in the future.

Graf is currently chairman of the Press Standards Board of Finance, the body that funds the Press Complaints Commission, and chairman of the Broadband Stakeholder Group, an advisory group to government, but will resign these positions before taking up his new post.

The three to five-year appointment was made jointly by Alan Johnson, secretary of state for trade and industry, and Tessa Jowell, secretary of state for culture, media and sport. Graf's appointment is effective from 1 January 2006. He will draw a £100,515 annual salary for up to three days a week.

 

23rd November   

Ofcon Take Wrestling Seriously...

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Melon Farmers logoSky Sports has been censured by Ofcom for resurrecting a character from the larger than life world of American wrestling who had been "killed off" after being accused of inciting anti-Muslim sentiment among fans.

World Wrestling Entertainment, the successor to the World Wrestling Federation franchise that became popular in the UK during the 1990s, was forced to axe the character of Muhammad Hassan from the ring after complaints in the wake of the July 7 London bombings.

But Sky Sports was yesterday censured by the media regulator Ofcom after the digital channel included the character in a programme which went out just over two weeks later on July 25.

The Great American Bash, a highlight of the WWE calender, brought together characters from its Raw and Smackdown strands of programming.

The character, played by an American, Mark Copani, entered the ring wearing an Arab headdress and surrounded by a phalanx of masked men in combat clothes who were described by the commentators as his "sympathisers". There was also use of emotive language, including the words "martyr", "sacrifice" and "infidel" and footage of a previous clash between him and another wrestler was set to music that sounded like the Muslim call to prayer.

After the programme, Sky approached WWE to ensure the character would be withdrawn, and it ended his contract.

 

23rd November   

Update: It surely wasn't Sky who got Muhammad Hassan withdrawn...

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Melon Farmers logoThanks to Byron & Manus

Being a big WWE fan I'd like to comment on the Ofcom ruling.

WWE got rid of the Muhammad Hassan character played by an Italian American after UPN, the US Network that shows Smackdown, complained about an terrorist angle on the July 7th Smackdown that was recorded on July 5th. It had nothing to do with SKY. WWE kept the character until the Great American Bash event as in the USA its a PPV event so people had already paid to see the Undertaker face him so they had to have the match. During the live Sky Sports showing of the event at 1am until 4am the angle Sky had cut from the July 7th Smackdown was shown.

Sky got in trouble for this from Ofcom who really don’t have nothing better to do but attack entertainment programmes and porn. Sky should not have got into trouble for two reasons:

  • Reason 1 is that the show is live and sky had no idea that the angle would be re-shown.
  • Reason 2 Why attack a show like wrestling that is no different from a show like 24 for showing Muslims as terrorists. The latest season of 24 showed this so why cant WWE. They are both scripted so why is one treated differently from the other. I know that racial stereotyping is wrong but if one form of entertainment can do why cant another.

The BBFC sees no problem with this as it has just passed the Great American Bash 15 uncut and added the following on the back Contains racial stereotyping.

Recently Daivari Hassan's manager came back to WWE. Daivari has the same gimmick. The WWE put him on their most watched show Raw. They did this as it is on the USA Network in the USA and since Raw is the number one show on cable they let them get away with anything. Raw is shown in the UK live on Sky Sports 3 every Monday night at 2am until 4:15am.

Sky has so far said nothing about Daivari who has been in the UK this week as the WWE has taped the Raw and Smackdown shows for broadcast here and in the USA at Sheffield.

WWE is big business for Sky as it is the highest rated show other than premiership football on Sky Sports. In fact most weeks WWE programming is the most watched show on multichannel tv.

Ofcom thankfully showed some sense when it turned down the complaint by someone that the Hassan angle could have been watched by children. This is nonsense as WWE has not been for kids for 8 years. They started to appeal to an adult audience in 1997 when kids had been deserting them for the now out of business WCW. Sky have been giving warnings about the content for at least 6 years. The live shows are all on well past the watershed at 1 and 2am.

How long before some bright spark watches the repeat of this weeks Raw on Wednesday and complains about Daivari. Ofcom was surposed to be a new liberal regulator but its just the ITC in disguise.

 

22nd November   

Ofcon Swear by their Research...

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Melon Farmers logoWorthless surveys have been saying that most aspects of life have been 'declining', 'going down hill', 'going to the dogs' etc as long as I can remember. Surely we should have hit rock bottom by now.

In reality I bet most people would prefer to live in 2005 than any bygone golden era of morality. Life has never been so good as our porn, swearing, crime infested, god forsaken modern age!

Based on an article from The Scotsman

An Ofcom reports says that British viewers blame soap operas and reality TV shows for what they believe is an increasing outpouring of bad language on screen. Many viewers are also said to fear that strong language is creeping earlier into the viewing schedules ahead of the 9pm watershed, which is designed to limit strong content to adult viewers.

Ofcom's researchers quizzed more than 170 people in Glasgow, Bristol, Leicester and London to discover people's attitudes towards swearing on the small screen. Those interviewed described their experiences of swearing on screen and gave their reaction to excerpts from ten programmes, all containing varying degrees of bad language.

The study concluded that, while some instances of bad language could be justified by the context - a documentary about a prison, for example - bad language on TV was often thought to be used gratuitously.

Programmes cited by viewers as responsible for increasing amounts of bad language included Eastenders, Grumpy Old Men, Hell's Kitchen and the daytime chat show Trisha. The Osbournes, the fly-on-the-wall documentary following the eccentric household of Ozzy Osbourne and his family, was also singled out for its strong language, but viewers felt more forgiving as they considered that the rocker's constant outbursts were "funny" and "part of the context."

The combative Glaswegian chef Gordon Ramsay is criticised in the research for his incessant use of the F-word. While many viewers were tolerant of bad language used when cameras were present in high-pressure work environments, Ramsay's unrelenting bad language failed to impress. Viewers thought it added nothing to the programme and could easily have been edited out.

The report says that the unexpected use of strong language remains offensive to the average viewer. One of the clips examined by the Ofcom researchers was a four-letter outburst by John Lydon, better known as Johnny Rotten, while a contestant on I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here. His language hit the headlines in February 2004 and forced ITV to introduce a time delay on subsequent episodes of the reality show.

The media analyst Paul Robinson said he thought Ofcom would take a "relaxed" view of reality TV, despite concerns raised by some of the audience. If something creeps out in a live programme, and it's in context, Ofcom will probably be more tolerant than something that has been scripted. They know these shows are going to be seen by kids whatever time they are scheduled.

The research was commissioned for Ofcom as part of its Broadcasting Code, which came into force in July this year.

 

8th November   

Peering into a Bag of Worms...

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Melon Farmers logoIt has come to our attention via a recent Freedom of Information request that Ofcom now intend to publish the minutes of both the Content Board and the Main Board meetings 6 months after the meetings take place. The minutes will still be "redacted" (Ofcom speak for edited) by Ofcom prior to publication to remove material that they believe falls within any of the Freedom of Information Act  exemptions, however a much clearer picture of activities should still emerge.

The exact timing of the publication of the critical R18 discussions that took place during the 25th and 26th meetings of the Content Board and 51st and 54th meetings of the Main Board is unclear, but under the 6 month rule all of these should now be publishable with the exception of the 54th meeting of the Main Board which would have to wait until this Thursday (10th November). There will be considerable delays initially as Ofcom will have a backlog to clear and will also have to "redact" the documents first. It is planned to publish the first 23 content board minutes as a priority although even this might take "some time".

We await publication with interest. There has certainly been a change of heart at Ofcom since the Ofwatch appeal for minutes back in June was refused by Stephen Carter himself. It would seem that the Information Commissioner has the ability to clarify matters in a way that Ofwatch was unable. All we can say is our thanks to Mr Payne at the offices of the Information Commissioner and also great thanks to Peter Woods for supplying this information to us. Who knows perhaps this small step will help clear the way for the redaction of R18 content on adult services as well.

 

6th November   

Ofcom Repression or Equivalent...

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Melon Farmers logoThe 18 rated 9 Songs includes several explicit hardcore scenes showing real sex These include a woman performing fellatio and masturbating an erect penis, ejaculation and close up of vagina being penetrated by penis and finger.

9 Songs is being shown all day on Sky Box Office. And just to add that the BBFC did in fact pass a DVD extra for 9 Songs at R18 featuring longer sex scenes out of context.

From blackjaques on The Melon Farmers' Forum

Well, I watched 9 Songs the night before last and was very surprised just how explicit it was, particularly the fellatio scene. Having watched so much " Y-Front Fellatio" and "pot-plant penetration" on the Adult channels it came as quite a shock! Just reinforces Ofcon`s absurdity. You can watch this film over your corn flakes at 7 o`clock in the morning but if anything similar is shown on an adult subscription channel late at night, some clown from Mediawatch gets to hear about it, complains to Ofcon and the channel is fined £ 20,000. What a sexually repressive, immature country we live in.

From IanG on The Melon Farmers' Forum

That`s the total hypocrisy and lunacy coming out of Ofcon for ya.

From `The Code`:

1.23 Pay per view services may broadcast up to BBFC 18-rated films or their equivalent, at any time of day provided:

there is a protection system pre 2100 and post 0530 (a mandatory PIN or other equivalent protection), that seeks satisfactorily to restrict access solely to those authorised to view when material other than BBFC U-rated or PG-rated or their equivalents is shown;


So, the supposedly ineffective PIN protection and NO watershed is going to stop kids seeing fellatio, ejaculation, masturbation and vaginal penetration simply because this is an 18 rated film? No! It`s going to stop kids seeing this material because it is presented with some `artistic merit`? No!

'The Code' continues:

1.24 Premium subscription services and pay per view/night services may broadcast ‘adult–sex’ material between 2200 and 0530 provided that in addition to other protections mentioned above:

there is a mandatory PIN protected encryption system, or other equivalent protection, that seeks satisfactorily to restrict access solely to those authorised to view; and

there are measures in place that ensure that the subscriber is an adult.

1.25 BBFC R18-rated films or their equivalent must not be broadcast.


If the sex scenes in 9 Songs are taken out of the context of that film they would not pass at anything less than R18, therefore Sky Box Office is showing "R18 or equivalent material", which of course is not allowed at any time. As has been stated many times, children simply do not have the ability to appreciate the context in which such scenes are presented and justified outside R18, thus to any child (or adult for that matter) this is R18 equivalent hardcore material.

If such hardcore scenes can `deprave and corrupt` our youth then this film, along with several others, has everything Ofcon are so reluctant to allow on PIN protected, post-watershed, late night, adult-only channels. Obviously Ofcon were a) wrong in their decision or, b) just wanted to maintain rights abuse of adult TV viewers (aka the status quo) or, c) wanted to cripple adult TV services in the UK. Either way their decision can now be seen as the total and utter foundless nonsense we all know it to be. I might add that as far as I was aware the Ofcon Code does not allow PPV services to broadcast 18 rated adult `sex works` between 5:30am and 10pm so if Sky are broadcasting this film 24/7 they most definitely are in serious breach of the Code and should be fined very heavily because according to Ofcon PIN protection is insufficient to safeguard kids from `R18 or equivalent` scenes.

However, this should convince UK adult services to force a Judicial Review of the Ofcon Code because the law it is based upon says nothing different from that applied to R18 videos and as such the decision by the High Court in 2000 stands - there are NO GROUNDS to suppress hardcore material, because the dangers to children do not warrant such disproportionate rights abuse by a public body. The fact people in the UK can and do receive hardcore TV from Europe is proof that the R18 ban is not fulfilling Ofcon`s requirement to provide an environment for new services to meet customer expectations and tastes. As no action has been taken to suppress any of the Euro providers (save one failed attempt), the dangers to children from this material obviously DO NOT EXIST. The ban is therefore without any precedent in UK or European law and in fact the ban was outlawed by the ECHR in 1990 when they stated that "a licensing system cannot be used to suppress any legally available material". No ifs, no buts, it is illegal to ban R18 from our screens, full stop. All Ofcon can do is to stipulate that R18 can only be broadcast at a time when it is `unlikely children will be viewing`. Ofcon have ignored the requirement in UK law to consult the Case Law of the ECHR, they have ignored the wording of the TVWF Directive and, they have chosen to interpret the Comms Act 2003 in a way that is not compatible with the HRA. They have not provided any evidence contrary to that the BBFC presented when they lost the R18 appeal and thus they have no right whatsoever to ignore the High Court ruling of 2000. Ofcon are committing an act of unmitigated human rights abuse. There are no time restrictions or PIN codes applied to viewing R18 videos in the home and yet such `lax` security measures are not sufficent to warrant an outright ban on the sale of R18 for home consumption. There can be no justification for applying a ban on receiving the same material via TV, which does offer time restrictions and PIN protection. In either case, the law recognises the vigilance and the rights of the carer outweigh the unfounded concerns of the censor or regulator.

 

25th October   

Ofcom in Breach of Decent Behaviour Guidelines...

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Melon Farmers logoThe lastest Ofcom Broadacsting Bulletin about programme complaints includes a fair few entries about the UK censored adult channels. It is interesting to note that the table has not been included in the usual html version but is hidden away in the pdf version.

All of these are listed under the single line of explanation: Other programmes not in breach or out of remit

Programme Date Channel Category No of complaints
Adult Channels 12/09/2005 Adult Channels Offence 1
Live XXX TV 18/07/2005 Live XXX TV Offence 1
Playboy Channel 27/07/2005 Playboy Offence 1
Retro Sexual 23/08/2005 Spice Extreme Sexual Portrayal 1
Rich Bints 06/09/2005 Adult Channel Offence 1
Sandy Agent Provocateur 25/07/2005 Playboy Offence 1
Secrets of the Mistress' Chambers 23/08/2005 Spice Extreme Sexual Portrayal 1
Shadows 12/08/2005 Spice Extreme Offence 1
Sophie's Wet Dreams  25/07/2005 Playboy Offence 1
Squirters and Gushers 23/08/2005 Spice Extreme Sexual Portrayal 2
Squirters and Gushers 22/08/2005 Spice Extreme Sexual Portrayal 1
White Knights and Pink Maidens   26/07/2005 Spice Extreme Offence 2

Now presumably these are mostly related to the fact that the channels show snippets of R18 material that is specifically banned in Ofcon's programme code. It is a blatant breach of their responsibility to not explain why they allow R18 snippets when the publicly available code says that they are banned. What is going on? and why cannot Ofcom answer this question?

 

25th October   

Programme Code Should be Pulped...

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Melon Farmers logoOfcom has beaten the BBC in a 14-month tussle over the post-watershed screening of Quentin Tarantino's movie Pulp Fiction.

The media regulator decided that 9.10pm on BBC2 was too early to begin transmission of Pulp Fiction, even though this was after the 9pm watershed, because of the seriously offensive language, graphic violence and drug abuse that occur in the first 20 minutes of the film.

It agreed with nine viewers who had complained and ruled that the broadcast, on August 7 last year, had breached its programme code on the scheduling of films with strong, adult content.

Ofcom's publication of its verdict on the Pulp Fiction complaints has been delayed because the BBC appealed the decision three times and matter went to the regulator's content board for a final ruling.

A combination of seriously offensive language, graphic violence and drug abuse occurred early in the film, before 9.30pm. Under the relevant [programme] code, 18 films are not prohibited but the content should be suitable for the time of transmission, the regulator said.Such intense material is not normally expected so soon after the watershed. We believe the scheduling of the film at 9.10pm was too early, given the strong, adult content from the start.

In making its decision, Ofcom noted that audience figures showed that 8% of the Pulp Fiction audience - 124,000 viewers - were aged 15 and under.

The BBC argued that it had broadcast Pulp Fiction on four previous occasions and that it was unlikely to surprise or offend BBC2 viewers, being one of the most influential and best known films of the last 10 years.

Ofcom said it had no issue with the BBC's argument for the editorial and cultural merits of the film, but noted that all the previous four BBC2 transmissions of Pulp Fiction had begun at 9.45pm or later.

 

10th October   

A Fine Currie...

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Melon Farmers logoTelevision Without Frontiers

Responses to the recent Television without Frontiers European consultation are now available on the Europa website including those from Ofwatch, Ofcom and many others. we note that the Mediawatch response stands alone in it's demand that the country of origin principle be swapped for the country of reception principle. This would effectively change the directive into what might best be described as "Television With Frontiers" where every country would be required to regulate it's broadcast services according to the whims of any other country where the signals could be received. This would cause broadcasting chaos. Thankfully this novel Mediawatch idea has no chance of being accepted.

Lord Currie at the Liverpool conference debating changes to European broadcasting legislation

Ofcom seem to have a healthy aversion to regulating the Internet. Perhaps even Ofcom realise that any such attempt would become mired in controversy from the start and lead to endless battles that they would be unlikely to win. Ofcom's chairman Lord Currie speech at the Liverpool Television Without Frontiers conference included the following passage:

This debate of course operates in parallel to the debate about potential tightening of the criminal law, where the UK Government has now identified possible scope to extend criminal penalties for possession of certain forms of electronic image beyond the established remit of the law in relation to child pornography, to include certain other forms of extreme pornography. We start from a belief that such a combination of tightened criminal law, coupled with action by service providers to empower consumers to protect themselves and their loved ones from harmful, but not necessarily illegal content, could go a long way to deliver the benefits claimed for extending the scope of TWF.

Conversely, we have real concern as to whether it is feasible to adopt a traditional, broadcast-type regulatory model for content delivered on new media platforms. In broadcasting, it is possible to impose additional rules beyond the straightforward criminal law because broadcasters require regulators’ permission to operate – there is, in the form of an operating or spectrum licence, a peg on which to hang regulatory rules. For some forms of new media distribution, similar pegs might be found – for instance for mobile content. But for pure, internet-delivered content it is difficult to see how any meaningful licensing controls could be imposed and hence how any sanction could be enforced. These problems arise even if the regulatory instrument of choice is a co-regulatory scheme in which industry operates against a long-stop of possible enforcement action by the regulator.

And it would be a terrible irony if the act of trying to impose top-down rules on those who can be reached via traditional regulation has the perverse effect of rewarding distribution across platforms which we cannot reach.

Ofcom attempt to answer frequently asked questions about the broadcast code

We have said it once and we will say it again, Ofcom need to get off the back of the viewing public and let people make up their own minds about what is appropriate for them to view. Hopefully by next year we will start to see the emergence of improved television services delivered via the Internet which are secure from censorship imposed by Ofcom. With any luck Ofcom will then regulate the traditional bowdlerised UK 'adult' content out of existence. In the words of Lord Currie it would be a terrible irony if the act of trying to impose top-down rules on those who can be reached via traditional regulation has the perverse effect of rewarding distribution across platforms which we cannot reach. an irony it will be indeed and one we look forward to expectantly.

Until then here are Ofcom's frequently asked questions about the broadcasting code.

 

7th October   

Softcore Not Worth PIN Protecting?...

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Melon Farmers logoThanks to Gawth on  The Melon Farmers' Forum

I have just got back from holiday and have received exactly the same letter from Ofcon. Seems they cannot even be bothered to write individual responses. I also questioned the fact that TAC and Playboy do not require PIN entry to view yet the code states adult services must be PIN protected. Surprise surprise this hasn`t been answered.

You may recall the Ofcon guidelines state:

1.24 Premium subscription services and pay per view/night services may broadcast [softcore] ‘adult-sex’ material between 2200 and 0530 provided that in addition to other protections mentioned above:

  • there is a mandatory PIN protected encryption system, or other equivalent protection, that seeks satisfactorily to restrict access solely to those authorised to view; and
  • there are measures in place that ensure that the subscriber is an adult.

 

29th September   

Lies Are Standards at Ofcon...

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Melon Farmers logoThe recent Ofcom programme guidelines make it crystal clear that only softcore as per that rated 18 by the BBFC can be shown on UK licensed TV. Yet Ofcom have been continually allowing snippets of hardcore material that would be rated R18 by the BBFC. What is more, they refuse to investigate complaints about this deviation from their own published standards.

One can only assume that they have agreed private, non-published guidelines with the adult channels. Presumably because keeping to the commercially unacceptable softcore guidelines would be a commercial wipeout for the UK adult TV industry.

Thanks to Gawth on  The Melon Farmers' Forum

Dear [Gawth]

Complaints about various programmes on adult channels

I refer to your recent complaints about the content of certain programmes transmitted on licensed adult channels.

As you are clearly aware, the Broadcasting Code (Section 1.25) states that BBFC R18 rated films or their equivalent may not be broadcast on UK television. And I note your assertion that - in your view - some particular films may have included very brief shots that might have gone beyond what is normally acceptable in BBFC 18 rated sex works.

I am sure I do not have to explain to you that much of the material broadcast on the licensed adult channels involves films originally certified at R18, and subsequently cut down for UK transmission. The cut down versions are not subsequently submitted to the BBFC for re-classification - nor is there any legal requirement for them to be re-classified for television. In other words, compliance with the broadcasting code is - in the first instance - a matter for the broadcaster alone.

Ofcom, of course,is not a film classification body, and it would be entirely inappropriate for us to seek (and we do not seek) to usurp the role of the BBFC in that regard, and "classify" individual shots. Nevertheless, we expect cut-down films shown on UK television services to be broadly in-line with the national classification system, and not to stray into R18 territory. For that reason, we are engaged in a dialogue with the broadcasters to ensure that they are fully aware of their responsibilities.

In the meantime, I note your previously stated position that you are not personally offended by any of this material, and that you would - in fact - prefer to have access to much stronger material on UK television. In other words, your motives for making these complaints are not straightforward.

I am aware that a small number of specialist internet sites / forums are currently urging contributors to make multiple complaints of this kind for nuisance value - in protest at the continued restrictions on the transmission of R18 material. In such circumstances, Ofcom may take the view that such complaints are vexatious and/or generate an unjustified and greatly disproportionate burden on Ofcom`s limited resources.

Although I have responded to your complaint on this occasion, you should be aware that if Ofcom considers complainants to be vexatious, either due to their submission of multiple complaints or for any other reason, it is Ofcom`s policy not to respond to them.

We will, of course, continue to regulate the adult industry as appropriate and in accordance with our duties under the Act.

Yours sincerely

John Glover
Senior Programmes Executive.

 

28th September   

In the Spirit of Punk Rock, Ofcom are Invited to Turn Over or Fuck Off...

Link Here

Melon Farmers logoRadio 1 has been rapped for a foul-mouthed tirade on an early evening broadcast.

At the start of Most Punk, broadcast at 7pm on a Thursday night in June, show host Zane Lowe welcomed listeners with: Hello ladies, boys and girls, I thought that you might like to know - in the spirit of punk rock – the following show includes, what we often refer to as language. So if, like me, you are offended by such words and phrases as: arse; bollocks; tit, wank; tit-wank; rotter; mother licker; mother sucker; mother fucker; twat; minge juice; bottler and of course bastard – then you might wish to turn over, or fuck off – thank you.

Two listeners complained to Ofcom over the incident. The BBC maintained that the programme was preceded by a warning and that the "carefully considered" clip was designed to be "thought-provoking".

Broadcasters have the right to transmit, and listeners the right to receive, material which may offend some people but uses strong language to explore artistic and creative themes, said Ofcom, who ruled that R1 had contravened the code. However, the right to deal with such subject matter comes with the responsibility of ensuring material is appropriately scheduled with the potential child audience in mind. While this was a legitimate approach, its application here was seriously misguided.

The regulator added that, although the BBC had pointed out that under 15's accounted for less than 1% of the radio audience at the time, the figure for Radio 1 was a more significant 14%.
Given the potential child audience for Radio 1 at this time, we believe that the use of such strong language, with such intensity, at the start of the programme was inappropriate.

 

14th September   

Make Poverty and Censorship History...

Link Here

Melon Farmers logoMake Poverty History (MPH), hailed as one of the most effective lobbying campaigns ever with its simple message and signature white wrist band, was banned on Monday from television and radio advertising in Britain.

Ofcom said the goals of its campaign, including an array of stars clicking their fingers to ram home the message that a child dies of preventable poverty every three seconds, were political and therefore outlawed. We have reached the unavoidable conclusion that MPH is a body whose objects are 'wholly or mainly' political as defined under the Act. MPH is therefore prohibited from advertising on television or radio, Ofcom said on its Web site.

 

13th September   

Anal Retentive Complaints...

Link Here

Melon Farmers logoCruising on Channel five, 4 June 2005, 23:20

This 1980 film starred Al Pacino as an undercover cop investigating a serial killer on the New York gay scene. A viewer complained about two virtually imperceptible clips of anal penetration. He believed that the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) had required these scenes to be cut for the film to obtain an 18-rating.

Response

Five explained that this version had been transmitted in error. The scenes were so brief that they were imperceptible without freeze-framing and they had not been picked up when the film was received from the distributor. The broadcaster was aware that the BBFC had required edits but, on checking at normal viewing speed, these scenes had not been visible and it had been assumed that this was the edited version.

The broadcaster assured us that it would now be alert to the possibility that very brief cuts required by the BBFC should be checked thoroughly. Five was also looking at any other precautions that might reasonably be taken to prevent similar mistakes occurring in future.

Decision

Given the extreme brevity of the pictures, very few viewers would have been aware of these scenes if they had not watched the film using a frame-advance mechanism. However the Programme Code does advise broadcasters to use the BBFC video classifications as a guide when transmitting films. In this case, an unintentional error was made. Taking into account the broadcaster’s actions, we consider that appropriate steps have been taken to avoid any similar occurrence.

Complaint resolved

 

25th August   

Ofcon Stonewalling...

Link Here

Melon Farmers logoThe ECHR was meant to protect us from abusive state organisations like Ofcom. Ofcon are censoring legal material with no real attempt at justification. (They seem to hold that a page count of research on porn and pin codes count as justification when they make no attempt to say how this research shaped their final decision). What is more serious is that they are operating secret guidelines on what they are allowing on the adult channels. The publically available guidelines clearly are being breached each day seemingly with impunity from sanction. So what is going on?

It is hardly surprising then that they are not willing to answer any of Paul's questions. They simply don't have any answers that are based on law and reason. I take their silence as admission of cowardice, prejudice and political interference.

From www.ofwatch.org.uk

Shortly after the publication of the new broadcasting code Paul Tavener wrote a letter to Ofcom with a list of twenty one questions concerning the regulation of adult services, the new code, Ofcom's research and various other related matters. Two months, four emails, three phone calls and one letter to an MP later a response was received from Ofcom's Director of standards (Chris Banatvala) and Senior Standards manager (Fran O'Brien)

Result: Question 2 discussed but not properly answered and question 19 answered (and the answer is no, its not in the public interest to release the information). One and a bit out of twenty one at this rate it could take a long time to get answers to the remaining questions.

Further action is still required by Ofcom 

 

16th August   

No Vice Advice...

Link Here

Melon Farmers logoThe BBC was criticised yesterday by Ofcom for scheduling documentaries on pornography, prostitution and drugs shortly after breakfast when young children may have been watching. Ofcom ruled that Britain's Streets of Vice, shown in a 9.15am slot earlier this year, was inappropriate daytime viewing and contravened its code. The programmes included scenes of the preparation and injection of drugs and footage of a woman discussing her experiences as a dominatrix who made her living from online pornography.

Ofcom received 58 complaints from viewers some of whom said they were watching with young children and others who said their offspring were not at school because of extreme weather. Of particular concern, said Ofcom, was some of the footage in the programme on drugs and the third and fourth programmes in the series which were "less serious in tone" and focused on brothels and pornography.

In the fourth programme, Ofcom drew attention to footage of sex aids and toys, magazine covers with explicit headlines and interviews with contributors including two women who regularly had sex with subscribers to their website and a 26-year-old man said to be one of Britain's top gay porn stars.

The BBC said the emphasis of its daytime service had been refocused in recent years to make "serious and informative" material available to adult viewers during the day and the four programmes in question were "intended as serious and informative documentaries".

It also said the series had been scheduled to run during the school term and had been carefully considered at a senior level prior to transmission. Other daytime talkshows often discussed adult themes, it said. But Ofcom said that the 45-minute programmes, while "manifestly in the public interest", and in no way glamorising or condoning the activities depicted, went beyond what viewers expected to see on BBC1 at that time of day.

The BBC said that as a result of reaction to the final programme it had decided not to air the series again during the day and promised that any future plans to cover sexual themes in the slot would "be scrutinised with particular care".

 

1st August   

Freedom of Information is Censored by Ofcon...

Link Here

Melon Farmers logoBack in June Ofwatch made a Freedom of Information request to Ofcom concerning various aspects of it's recent PIN security research. Ofcom's response was received last week with the usual claim that it was not in the public interest to release most of the requested information. One email relating to the commissioning of research was released, but raises more questions than it answers.

It would seem that the PIN research* was not commissioned until 23rd February 2005 and yet a draft report was available by 22nd April. So in less than 2 months the required questions were agreed, 1557 children from 28 schools across the country as well as adults took part in the study, the results were collected analysed and the report created.

It is evident from the time frame, the released email and comments from Professor Patrick Barwise in the report itself*, that the research was conducted in a great rush. It is therefore rather alarming that Ofcom have refused to release the raw data from this research on public interest grounds. More disturbing still was the claim made by Professor Barwise in the report* that "Because of the tight deadline, however I have not had time to check the reported figures in the board paper and Annex 1 against those in the detailed tabulations.". It would seem that it is not in the public interest to have an independent check made on this data. This matter has been raised in an appeal and will be taken to the Information Commissioner if necessary.

Another curious aspect of this research is that the key discussions concerning the censorship of R18 content were taken in the content board meetings of the 7th/8th March and 18th/19th April, which was before the draft report reviewed by Professor Barwise was available. It would seem likely that this research was undertaken to provide evidence for a decision that had already been made, rather than the decision being made based on the evidence. Such is the nature of evidence based regulation. 

 

27th July   

Secret Guidelines from the Tellyban at Ofcon?...

Link Here

Melon Farmers logoI was impressed at the apt, Tellyban, description of Ofcon.  There are very few good things that you can say Ofcon on the subject of adult TV. Today's theme must surely be hypocrisy. All the good words they promised about being accountable and then on the first day of their new code they must surely have issued secret guidelines allowing adult broadcasters to go beyond the boundaries written in their code.

The recently published guidelines clearly say: 1.25 BBFC R18-rated films or their equivalent must not be broadcast. Yet all of the snippets below would qualify for an R18 from the BBFC.

What is going on Ofcon? Are your guidelines a sham? Or are you the worst regulator since censors began?

From Grawth on The Melon Farmers' Forum

Decided to try and catch as many of them as possible last night. Watched various channels from 10ish to just after midnight. Caught in illicit activity were the following:

  • PBTV - Sandy: Agent Provocateur, and Sophie`s Wet Dreams (both cunnilingus and digital penetration)
  • TAC - The Real and Hot Chef (cunnilingus and digital penetration)
  • Spice Extreme - Lolly Badcock and White Knights & Pink Maidens (cunnilingus and digital penetration)
  • TVX - sure I got something on them but can`t remember what - will have to check the video
  • Climax - Channel 3 just before midnight - outdoor sex and cunnilingus
  • Xplicit - Tight and White (around midnight ish) prolonged and vigorous close up masturbation, cunnilingus, semen on genitals
  • SportXXX Babes - brief anal penetration, cunnilingus

Seems like I have some complaints to write!

By the way, did a bit of checking on the BBFC website to see what they have made people cut to get an 18 certificate, and that`s why the outdoor sex bit is in there, along with the semen on genitals

 

27th July   

Limerick to Ofcom, AKA the "TellyBan"...

Link Here

Melon Farmers logoThanks to Shaun

Ofcom folk, which we'll call the TellyBan,
Said, of porn: "We're simply not a fan!
We`ve no justifications,
For banning such stations,
But we`ll do it, just `cos we can!

The purpose of our regulation,
Is to be certain of penis deflation.
If it gets too erect,
It`s sure to affect,
Our complete lack of justification.

We don't want 'em getting excited,
In case our society gets blighted.
The status quo, - it will stay,
They'll nee'r get their own way,
Then soon, we might all get Knighted.

We will allow 'em some tit,
And let girls, show just a bit,
But we can`t let a station,
Relieve male frustration,
'Cos we want them all physically fit!

Our quest, you know, really is kind,
It`s to prevent them all going blind.
We know masturbation,
If they watched such a station,
Will make all their things hard to find!

We know that you will not agree,
But we really do hope you`ll see,
That our position, is fair,
It`s straight out of thin air,
Now in future, don`t contact me!"

By Shaun Hollingworth.
Distribute freely! No copyright claimed

 

26th July   

An Ode to the Odious...

Link Here

Melon Farmers logoSo at the start of a new era of Ofcon dictated regulation (With the new programme code just coming into force yesterday) we still cannot watch what we want on our own TVs. And we have received no justification from Ofcon as to why!

Ian G has contributed a ballad for the occasion  (mp3 deleted through lack of space)

Ballad for Sexual Freedom (aka The Buggers) By Ian G

The buggers won't let me watch what I want on my own TV
They say it isn't right and it wouldn't be good for you or me
But what do they care for you and me as long as they draw their salaries
No the buggers won’t let me watch what I want on my own TV

And the buggers won't let me choose if I wear my clothes
If I go outside I gotta dress up smart and keep it all below
But it doesn't seem fair I thought we were free and there's only one way to really feel the breeze
No the buggers won't let me choose if I wear my clothes

And the buggers say the harm from porn to kids is self-evident
But censor-less kids are sane in Spain and that's real evidence
But small-minded pricks that have no sense fill all the seats in HM Government
So the buggers do the harm to the kids of the Brits and that's self-evident

And the buggers believe what they want and that's the score
They talk a load of shite and when we put up a fight then they make it law
Well the sycophantic gits can kiss my bits we didn’t get great by acting like dicks
And when we go to the booths we’ll show them buggers the door

So the buggers better let me watch what I want on my own TV
Because it’s only right and it would be good for you and me
And if we have to go to court then so be it because the time is here to do our bit
So the buggers better let us watch what we want on our own TVs

And the buggers don’t know what they do and that’s for sure
This Nanny State definitely ain’t what my pa fought for
He said “There’s nothing wrong in the naked form and sex is natural and it can be fun”
No the buggers don’t know what they do and that’s for sure

© Ian Greenwood 2005

 

22nd July   

The Meek Shall Inherit...

Link Here

Melon Farmers logoOfcom have announced some restructuring.

Kip Meek, Ofcom's chief policy adviser, has been put in charge of the watchdog's international strategy, in a move that signals a tighter focus on international developments in communications regulation. Ofcom's work on convergence in the UK has been attracting increased attention from regulators abroad.

Ofcom has consistently engaged with international organisations, particularly in Europe, and we now want to put that on a more structured footing, said a spokesman. Meek, who is chairman-elect of the European Regulators' Group, will oversee Ofcom's contribution to reviews of EU policies on television and telecoms, as well as its participation in the 2006 international regional radio conference.

He will also take responsibility for Ofcom's content and standards group and will report directly to Ofcom chief executive Stephen Carter.

Updated:

Stephen Carter, the chief executive of Ofcon, received a 12% pay rise last year as the cost of the senior team at the media and telecommunications regulator rose by £1.2m.  Ofcon's annual report, published yesterday, revealed that Mr Carter was paid £414,463 in the year to March 31, up from £370,769 the previous year. The package included a bonus of £53,000 in addition to a basic salary of £267,500.

Ofcom's main board, content regulation board and executive committee were paid a total of £3.5m, up from £2.3m the previous year. However, the increase includes wages for a further two executive committee members.

Carter was not available for comment yesterday, but last year he defended his remuneration - which is comparatively high for a public servant - with the comment that he was "not just doing the job for the money".
[Perhaps it is the joys of censoring his fellow man then]

 

3rd July   

Watching the Good Work by Ofwatch...

Link Here

Melon Farmers logoOfwatch will be attending the Westminster Media Forum Television without Frontiers Consultation Seminar: The View from UK Stakeholders on the 20th July in the Lewis Media Centre, Millbank Tower Millbank London.

The seminar will cover a variety of issues associated with the revision of the Television without Frontiers treaty including new TVWF proposals and issues, delivering audio-visual content in 2010 and beyond TVWF for citizen-consumers of the UK: the view from Parliament and protecting vulnerable groups.

The keynote speaker is Chris Bone, Head, International Broadcasting Policy Branch, DCMS. Delegates are expected to be a senior and informed group numbering up to 150, including: Members of both Houses of Parliament; officials from DCMS, DTI, HM Treasury, the Cabinet Office and Ofcom; representatives from local government; interest groups and the consumer movement; academia and the national media. Watch this space.

DCMS 'creative industries' discussion forum

Many thanks to Russ at Ofcomwatch for telling us about the new creative industries discussion forum that has been set up by the DCMS to discuss.. well... creative industries. Although not particularly user friendly, the forum is accessible if you are prepared to submit your email address and wait a few days. Ofwatch has already applied to join and we sincerely hope that the DCMS will be interested in discussing our interest in the five year delay in applying a proscription order to Satisfaction television. After all adult services are a 'creative industry' and it would appear that there still maybe a 'pressing social need' to apply the proscription order to this aspect of the creative industry as recommended by the ITC, notwithstanding the fact that there has been a five year delay in it's application and the minister is still considering the matter.

We recommend that all visitors who have an interest in 'creative industries discussions' apply to the DCMS to join the forum to share your views with others. No doubt the DCMS will be delighted - enjoy.

Freedom of Information Act

Ofwatch has been busy asking Ofcom for a variety of information covered by the Freedom of information Act and Ofcom has been busy refusing our requests. We hope to publish details of the state of play in the near future.

 

25th June   

Conned! The Reply...

Link Here

Melon Farmers logoStock answer to complaints about Ofcon's unjustified ban on R18s From John Glover at Ofcom:

Thank you for your recent correspondence about Ofcom’s new Broadcasting Code.

I am sorry you are unhappy with the rule which prohibits the transmission of “R18” and “R18 standard” material. The decision was taken in line with Ofcom’s statutory duty to protect the under 18s from potential harm – and was reached after full public consultation, and in the light of research into the use of existing PIN security systems by both children and adults.

The details of Ofcom’s consultation on the Code, together with responses to various pertinent points (including those you have raised), are published on our website (beginning at page 108) at: www.ofcom.org.uk/consult/condocs/Broadcasting_code/bcstat/section2.pdf

Details of research into the potential harm to children; and into the use of PIN security systems by children are also on our website at: www.ofcom.org.uk/research/radio/reports/bcr/?a=87101. Of course, I understand that this is a controversial area, and that you and others may disagree with Ofcom’s conclusions. However, I should point out that Ofcom did not conclude that “R18” was unsuitable for transmission per se – only that it could not be adequately protected from access by children under current systems.

Ofcom has stated publicly that it is willing to look at this issue again if technical or other developments mean that secure protection can be provided in future.

Thank you for your interest, Yours sincerely, John Glover Senior Programmes Executive

 

22nd June   

Ofcon Not So Hip...

Link Here

Melon Farmers logoMusic channel U has been fined  £18,000 for a catalogue of ITC code breaches in addition to advertising breaches not detailed here.

Breaches of Ofcom’s (ex-ITC) Programme Code:

  • section 1.6 (sex and nudity), in showing sexually explicit material on an unencrypted music channel
  • section 1.2 (watershed), including inappropriate language in a video during the daytime schedule
  • section 8.1(i) (programme related materials and services), in promoting the sale of a commercial product within programmes;
  • section 8.2 (use of premium rate telephone services in programmes) in promoting premium rate telephone numbers.

Video Interactive Television Plc (VIT) is licensed by Ofcom to run the satellite service Channel U. It is a music channel with a strong interactive element that broadcasts urban music videos and culture from the hip hop world. Its primary audience, according to the licensee, is young viewers, mainly in inner city areas.

The supposed sex and nudity offense occurred in material broadcast on various dates between 23.00 and 04.00. Channel U broadcast material which was too sexually explicit for showing on an unencrypted channel in breach of section 1.6 of the Programme Code (sex and nudity) in Channel U’s ‘XXXU’ slot, in particular in its Hip Hop Honeyz videos. The videos included explicit full frontal nude shots of women who also appeared to be masturbating.

Of course under the new code 18 rated material can be broadcast unencrypted between 22:00 and 05:30 so I would have thought that the channel would be feeling a bit miffed about this part of the judgment. Of course there is no way that the material could have been R18 as Ofcon admit that the actors only appeared to be masturbating.

So will there be a hidden set of guidelines that say such things that if a channel targets youngsters during the day that it cannot show 18 material at night? Lets hope all such bollox regulation will be swept away with the new code.

 

22nd June   

Big Fucking Deal...

Link Here

Melon Farmers logoOfcon has said that it is concerned about the rising incidents of complaints against Channel 4 for swearing in pre-watershed broadcasting, this time for its dating gameshow Playing it Straight.

The third incident in recent months came in the dating show, which featured a woman trying to identify gay men from a selection of male suitors, in order to win a cash prize. It was originally broadcast on Friday evenings after the watershed.

However, Channel 4 decided that it would also be suitable for its youth strand T4 on the weekend, and it was broadcast on Saturday mornings in an edited version suitable for younger audiences.

Nine viewers complained about the episode broadcast on April 9, where the word "fuck" was accidentally included. Some viewers also felt that the subject was unsuitable for the timeslot.

Although Channel 4 apologised for the swearing on air immediately after the programme and explained that it had been left in the Saturday broadcast because of human error, Ofcom ruled that Channel 4 was in breach of the programme code.

It said in its ruling that it welcomed the apology.

"Nonetheless, there have been recent complaints about swearing in a pre-watershed repeat of the Big Brother Panto and in the subtitles of 100 Greatest Christmas Moments. We are concerned therefore at this latest instance and have concluded that it was in breach of the Programme Code," it said.

 

26th May   

Light Touch...BUT...

Link Here

Melon Farmers logoThe Guardian seemed to have most succinctly summed up the content of some of the other aspects of the code

Broadcasters will be given greater leeway to exercise their discretion in showing controversial scenes after the watershed in the wake of reforms from the media regulator Ofcom affecting taste and decency rules that cover all television and radio networks.

Tim Suter, the senior partner for broadcasting and standards at Ofcom, said the deregulatory thrust behind the new code was designed to combine "freedom of expression with editorial justification". The new rules will allow broadcasters greater freedom to "transmit challenging material, even that which may be considered offensive by some, provided it is editorially justified and the audience given appropriate information".

But the "light touch" approach to material broadcast after the watershed will go hand in hand with tougher rules designed to protect children and under-18s. While the 9pm watershed will remain to protect viewers under 15, Ofcom said that "all reasonable steps" must be taken to protect 16 and 17-year-olds as well, and not switch content too rapidly after 9pm.

In an age of hundreds of channels, Suter said adult viewers should be given the tools to make up their own minds. The new rules apply only to television and radio broadcasts but Suter agreed there would be a wide-ranging debate in the coming months over the extent to which the regulator should oversee content broadcast over broadband internet connections and to mobile devices.

Harm and offence

Ofcom said it was committed to maintaining the 9pm watershed as a signpost to broadcasters and viewers, despite the growing popularity of personal video recorders and other technology that allows audiences to "time-shift" programmes. Large swaths of people still watch linear TV, and even those who record programming use the time at which it was originally broadcast as a guide, Suter said.

But, for the first time, Ofcom has included a definition of "context" in the code that will allow broadcasters to be judged on the overall content of the programme and the offending material's place in it. The 117-word definition outlines a series of conditions that could be used to justify sex or violence and the use of bad language in broadcasts. They include the time, the channel, the size of the audience and whether viewers were warned about content. It's about telling the punter what they are going to get before they get it, said Ofcom's deputy chairman, Richard Hooper.

Sponsorship

The regulator said yesterday that it had "deregulated significantly in the area of commercial sponsorship and com mercial references, while ensuring at the same time that the overriding principle of editorial independence is maintained".

Ofcom also said that it was minded to amend the existing sponsorship rules to allow whole channels to be sponsored for the first time in Britain. The change is designed to remove the anachronism that allows commercial companies such as Thomas Cook or Hallmark to operate channels and name them after their brand but does not allow advertisers to sponsor an entire channel.

Suter said the regulator still has to work out which channels such commercial involvement is appropriate for because of European legislation prohibiting the sponsoring of news and current affairs programmes. Therefore digital entertainment channels could be linked to a commercial sponsor but any channel with a news element could not.

Product placement

Advertisers and broadcasters had hoped that the new code would relax the existing rules on product placement. As traditional TV advertising leads to diminishing returns because of fragmenting audiences and ad-skipping technology such as Sky Plus, they are looking for new ways in which to push their products. Advertising gurus such as Trevor Beattie are convinced that the product placement of the kind that has been seen for some time in Hollywood films is inevitable.

Ofcom said that it was retaining the existing rules banning product placement but acknowledged the pressure on traditional broadcast advertising as a key source of funding. It added that it would look again at the issue later this year in a wide-ranging review of the television advertising market.

Impartiality and fairness

During the consultation period following the publication of the draft proposals, there was much debate surrounding the idea that television news would inevitably become more editorialised as the number of channels proliferated.

Some believe channels broadcast from overseas, such as Fox News and al-Jazeera, already stretch the rules to their limits and that their domestic equivalents should be allowed. But Ofcom has chosen to maintain much the same rules on fairness and impartiality as were in place under the old regulatory regime. All television and radio news broadcasts "must be reported with due accuracy and presented with due impartiality", it said.

Adult material

During the consultation period, adult channels and anti-censorship campaigners waged a vocal campaign for restricted R18 hardcore pornography to be allowed on British television for the first time. They argued that because viewers had to subscribe to adult channels and because content was protected with a personal identification number, nobody should stumble across the broadcasts.

But Ofcom, while allowing subscription channels to broadcast 15-rated films throughout the day, said R18 movies, at present only available from licensed sex shops, remained a special case. It pointed to research showing that some children were able to use their parent's access codes without them finding out.

 

26th May   

Clear and Simple Inconsistency...

Link Here

Melon Farmers logoOfcom today publishes its Broadcasting Code for television and radio. Section 319 of the Communications Act 2003 and Section 107 of the Broadcasting Act 1996 requires Ofcom to draw up a code for television and radio covering standards in programmes, sponsorship, fairness and privacy.

The single, simplified Code, which comes into force on 25 July 2005, condenses the six codes inherited from Ofcom’s broadcasting predecessors into a framework of clear rules and principles. As well as setting standards to protect the under 18s, the Code allows broadcasters as much freedom of expression as is consistent with the law, as well as the flexibility to differentiate between services and enable their audiences to make informed choices.

Key points include:

  • Freedom of expression

    • The Code allows broadcasters more creative freedom. It also allows audiences greater scope to exercise informed choice through the provision of information about what is to be broadcast. For the first time in a broadcasting code, the meaning of “context” is given and its importance highlighted.
    • The Code provides for broadcasters to transmit challenging material, even that which may be considered offensive by some, provided it is editorially justified and the audience given appropriate information. The freedom to broadcast this material is, of course, limited at times when children may particularly be expected to be listening or viewing - in television terms, pre-watershed
       
  • Commercial references and other matters

    • In the area of sponsorship and commercial references, Ofcom has deregulated significantly whilst ensuring at the same time that the overriding principle of editorial independence is maintained.
    • The ban on product placement remains in place; however, Ofcom acknowledges the pressure on traditional broadcast advertising as a key source of funding for commercial broadcasters and will consult on product placement in the context of a wider assessment of the broadcast advertising market later in the year.
       
  • Protecting the Under 18s

    • This new section lays greater emphasis on rules to safeguard the under 18s, and in particular children (defined in the Code as the under 15s) who are too young to exercise fully informed choices for themselves.
    • Children must be protected by appropriate scheduling - with the use of, for instance, the watershed - from material that is unsuitable for them.
    • Children can also be protected by other means, including, for example, PIN mechanisms. For premium subscription film services, Ofcom believes such measures provide sufficient security to allow the rules for these services to be changed. Therefore, provided there is a protection system such as a mandatory PIN - and that these systems are clearly explained to all subscribers - premium subscription film services will now be able to broadcast films which are rated up to a BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) 15 certificate, 24 hours a day. Ofcom believes this will extend viewer choice whilst ensuring children are properly protected.
    • However, in the case of adult material with a BBFC R18 certificate (commonly known as hard-core pornography), Ofcom believes that it is appropriate to take a more precautionary approach. Research commissioned by Ofcom indicates that some children in the current environment are able to access and use their parents’/carers’ PIN numbers without these adults’ knowledge. Given the strength of the material – and adopting the precautionary approach – Ofcom is not satisfied that under 18s can be effectively protected. Therefore, under the new Code, R18-rated material is not permitted to be broadcast. However, if future developments enable more secure protection, Ofcom would consider whether to review this position.

The new Code has been informed by extensive research amongst viewers, listeners and broadcasters; Ofcom also received more than 900 responses to its public consultation. Ofcom has also taken into account a number of industry and market developments. These include the rapid expansion of choice in television and radio; the fact that the majority of households now have digital and multi-channel television and access to digital radio; changing patterns of use; wider developments in social attitudes; and evolving technology.

Ofcom Chief Executive Stephen Carter said: “The new Code sets out clear and simple rules which remove unnecessary intervention, extend choice for audiences and allow creative freedom for broadcasters.”

He added: “It also secures the protection of the under 18s - which our research has shown to be an important priority for viewers.”

Richard Hooper, Ofcom Deputy Chairman and Chairman of the Content Board, said: "Both broadcasters and audiences told us of the need for clarity and flexibility in how we approach these rules. We believe the new Code meets those requirements."

 

25th May   

Ofcon: We Don't Believe in Censorship...BUT...

Link Here

Melon Farmers logoOfcon have released their new program code today on their website

Just a reminder of their laudable aims published at the time of the public consultation about their broadcasting code.

  1. Freedom of expression is an essential human right. It is the right to hold opinions, to receive information and ideas and to impart them.
  2. Broadcasting and freedom of expression are intrinsically linked. The one is the life blood of the other. Nowhere can that tension between the right to freedom of expression and its restriction be more acute than in drawing up a Code which seeks to regulate broadcasting.
  3. All regulation in the proposed Code must be prescribed by law and necessary in a democratic society. Unnecessary regulation should not be in this Code. Rules cannot be made at the whim of a regulator.
  4. Regulation should be transparent, accountable, proportionate, consistent and targeted only at cases where action is needed. That is a requirement of the Act but it is also part of the test Ofcom has to apply in restricting freedom of expression.

Now on a whim they have denied our freedom of expression with a totally disproportionate and unnecessary ban of legal adult material...Shame on them!

The most immediately relevant sections are as follows as applying to films, premium subscription film services, and pay per view services,

1.20 No film refused classification by the BBFC  may be broadcast unless it has subsequently been classified or the BBFC has confirmed that it would not be rejected according to the standards currently operating. Also, no film cut as a condition of classification by the BBFC may be transmitted in a version which includes the cut material unless:

  • the BBFC has confirmed that the material was cut to allow the film to pass at a lower category; or
  • the BBFC has confirmed that the film would not be subject to compulsory cuts according to the standards currently operating.

1.21 BBFC 18-rated films or their equivalent must not be broadcast before 2100 on any service except for pay per view services, and even then they may be unsuitable for broadcast at that time.

1.22 Premium subscription film services may broadcast up to BBFC 15-rated films or their equivalent, at any time of day provided:

  • there is a protection system (a mandatory PIN or other equivalent protection) pre 2000 and post 0530, that seeks satisfactorily to restrict access solely to those authorised to view when material other than BBFC U-rated or PG-rated or their equivalents is shown; and
  • those security systems which are in place to protect children are clearly explained to all subscribers.

1.23 Pay per view services may broadcast up to BBFC 18-rated films or their equivalent, at any time of day provided:

  • there is a protection system pre 2100 and post 0530 (a mandatory PIN or other equivalent protection) that seeks satisfactorily to restrict access solely to those authorised to view when material other than BBFC U-rated or PG-rated or their equivalents is shown;
  • information is provided about programme content that will assist adults to assess its suitability for children
  • there is a detailed billing system for subscribers which clearly itemises all viewing including viewing times and dates; and
  • those security systems which are in place to protect children are clearly explained to all subscribers

1.24 Premium subscription services and pay per view/night services may broadcast [softcore] ‘adult-sex’ material between 2200 and 0530 provided that in addition to other protections mentioned above:

  • there is a mandatory PIN protected encryption system, or other equivalent protection, that seeks satisfactorily to restrict access solely to those authorised [sounds very Orwellian] to view; and
  • there are measures in place that ensure that the subscriber is an adult.

1.25 BBFC R18-rated films or their equivalent must not be broadcast.

 

24th May   

Maybe May...

Link Here

Melon Farmers logoOfcom's 35th broadcasting bulletin published yesterday contained the following statement: Ofcom consulted in 2004on its new Code, which will be published later this month and will take effect from late July (detail to be advised) - with the exception of Rule 10.17 which comes into effect on 1 July 2005.

(note rule 10.17 in the draft code referred to Financial reporting and promotion of investment activity so is unlikely to be relevant)

We have also received unconfirmed reports that the new broadcasting code will be published tomorrow.

 

24th May   

Channel 4 No Idiots...

Link Here

Melon Farmers logoOfcom have cleared the explicit sex shown in Channel 4's recent screening of the Idiots despite complaints. It would seem that the television censor is prepared to let explicit penetrative sex be shown on free to air services whilst the screening of the same type of content on a PIN protected adult only subscription channel is prohibited. We have every reason to believe that this nonsensical inconsistency should be rectified when the new Ofcom broadcast code is published.

Ofcom said:

Seven viewers complained about the graphic sexual content of this film – especially as it was shown on a terrestrial channel.

Channel 4 explained that the film was shown as part of its “Banned” season exploring censorship and cinematic works. The channel recognised that the films in this season were of a controversial and difficult nature. It was decided to precede each film with a short contextualising introductory film warning potential viewers about the difficult or extreme material contained in the film and explaining its context and justification.

On this occasion, Tim Roth, the presenter of these introductory films, explained that the  censors were troubled by a gangbang with full front nudity and a brief shot of hardcore penetration. He went on to say that the BBFC understood that the orgy scene was thematically important because it questions the characters’ intentions and heralds the break-up of the commune. Tim Roth explains that the BBFC passed the film uncut for both cinema and home video release, but that the offending organs were digitally obscured for its first television broadcast.

Channel 4 took the view that this broadcast was transmitted in a different and very specific context - a debate about the censorship of film and television. However, the channel took the precaution of scheduling the film after midnight and gave clear and specific warnings about the content. In addition to the introductory film, there was a warning immediately before the broadcast and another returning from the advertisement break, prior to the scene in question (broadcast at approximately 01:30).

Given, a) its statutory remit to innovate and experiment and to appeal to the tastes and interests of a culturally diverse society and b) viewers’ expectations regarding this remit, Channel 4 believed it made adequate provisions to limit the degree of harm and offence likely to be caused.

Ofcom's Decision:

We recognise that this is a challenging and controversial film, which some viewers may find difficult to view. Until now, films showing unedited graphic sexual content of this nature have been confined to specialist subscription film channels. The Idiots has been shown before on Channel 4, but with the scene of penetrative sex digitally obscured. When previously shown on FilmFour and in an edited version on Channel 4, the film attracted very little complaint and those received were not upheld by the legacy regulators.

We recognise that showing such sexual imagery on a terrestrial channel carries a greater potential for offence than when broadcast on a specialist subscription channel which is of limited availability. Ofcom has to balance the potential offence this film may cause viewers against Channel 4’s remit to explore difficult themes – on this occasion the examination of censorship.

Under the circumstances: the serious contextualisation of the film within a season examining the censorship of film and television, its artistic purpose, the channel which transmitted it, the strong warnings before the film and prior to the scene in question and the scheduling after midnight, we consider this broadcast of the film on Channel 4 did not breach the Code. These circumstances all served to prepare potential viewers for the extreme content.

An important consideration was the artistic intention of the film in its style and narrative. The documentary approach, along with the brevity of the scene and its pivotal role in breaking up the group, further distanced the film from those of the ‘adult market’.

While we do not consider the film was in breach of the Code on this occasion, we must consider carefully the acceptability of any similar content on an individual basis. The film was not in breach

 

23rd May   

No Demand for On Demand Regulation...

Link Here

Melon Farmers logoOfcom's Chairman Lord Currie recently made a speech to the Newspaper society in which he reiterated Ofcom's position concerning television regulation and it's diminishing role. There was talk of “evidence-based and transparent regulation” and “a bias against intervention”. This short extract gives an encouraging impression:

The Communications Act, rightly, in my view, gives Ofcom no powers over television content delivered over the internet. It follows inexorably that when your TV programme can be delivered via broadband alongside the conventional broadcast signal, Ofcom’s powers to regulate must fade.

However, there will be, and should be, a lively debate about whether content regulation of the kind that we are used to in broadcasting should extend to internet content. To fully inform that debate, in the year ahead, Ofcom will ask the following questions and will research the answers:
 

  • firstly, is regulation of TV content over the internet practicable?
  • Secondly, are there effective alternatives to direct regulation?
  • And, thirdly, is regulation, on balance, desirable?

While I don’t want to say in advance what the research is likely to show, my hunch is that the answers will be:

  • On the practicability of regulation of TV over the internet – probably not;
  • On whether there are effective alternatives to direct regulation – definitely;
  • And on the desirability of direct regulation – almost certainly not.

Even if feasible, my own view is that extending direct regulation is absolutely not the right response. It would give enormous succour to oppressive regimes around the world which seek to censor what their peoples can access. I do want to see parents given the knowledge and the tools to protect their children against inappropriate content. The need for such protected walled gardens is very high on the list of concerns that people have about the digital age and the internet sector is already responding to that need.

 

13th May   

Ofcom Reply to Brussels...

Link Here

Melon Farmers logoOfcom has said it would be impossible for it to effectively police television content streamed over the internet and this job must rest with the individual viewer. The warning from the communications watchdog comes after proposals from Brussels aim to make media regulators such as Ofcom responsible for keeping television content on the internet clean.

Both live and recorded television content is already available on the internet. Using the internet and especially broadband to deliver programmes gives content providers and broadcasters new ways of offering new services to their customers, such as programmes on demand.

But under a revamp of the Television without Frontiers directive, the European Union has suggested that in the same way regulators monitor and rule on television programmes for taste and decency, they should regulate internet broadcast content.

Currently, a complaint to Ofcom about harm and offence in a television programme would be investigated by the regulator, and if the broadcaster was in breach, this would trigger regulatory action. But Ofcom said trying to regulate the myriad new services and technologies delivering television such as broadband or 3G couldn't be done using the traditional methods.

It pointed out it currently did not have the necessary powers to regulate television content accessible via the internet. Ofcom said the proposals also didn't take into account different laws and interpretations of laws in other countries. Parliament has decided in the Communications Act that Ofcom should have no remit over internet content. I believe this was the right outcome for today's environment. Ofcom has no role to play whatsoever said David Currie, Ofcom's chairman.

The proposals have also concerned internet service providers who don't believe it is their job to act as monitors of people's viewing habits and believe such laws would not be feasible to enforce. The need for consumer protection is evident [but] the issue could run into areas of censorship, a can of worms that Ofcom would surely prefer to avoid opening - where would the line then be drawn? Begin regulating internet content and do you then have to regulate internet-based phone conversations, said Steve Harris of the UK Internet Forum.

Ofcom said it is in favour of a mix of existing laws such as obscenity and copyright and protection for children. The industry as a whole has a duty to provide 'safe havens'. But this had to be combined with greater consumer internet literacy because ultimately said Ofcom, the regulators would ultimately have to be the viewers themselves blocking content they personally were unhappy with.

 

3rd May   

Labelling the Panacea...

Link Here

Melon Farmers logoOfcom is considering an industry-wide classification system to help consumers better understand the suitability of everything from TV shows to online videos and music downloads.

Ofcom believes such a classification scheme - similar to that in place in the Netherlands - could help manage the spread of harmful or inappropriate material. It hopes the scheme would prove further reaching than the current film-rating system, and offer viewers and listeners "clear, accurate and timely advice about content".

Tim Suter, an Ofcom board member, told the Financial Times: We're asking whether it is possible to find a common framework behind labelling of content. A uniform labelling system would be very helpful. However, the plan could not work without the agreement of internet service providers, telecom firms and media groups.

The FT reported that the proposal has found favour with the BBC, Scottish Media Group, and the Community Channel. But others are said to be less keen. The paper said some commercial broadcasters - including ITV, Channel 4, and Five - have claimed labelling could dilute their brands.

Ofcom has been warned that classifying non-UK material on the internet could prove problematic as it would not be covered by the same rules. At present, Ofcom has no say over internet content and Suter said it was not seeking to expand its role.

The labelling system is part of the watchdog's bid to help improve media literacy. A report on the subject is expected later this year.

 

2nd May   

Due in June...

Link Here

Melon Farmers logoFull rundown of latest information on Ofwatch

R18 ping pong between the Ofcom boards

The Ofcom content board and the Ofcom executive board have recently held detailed discussions over R18 broadcasting, Adult services and the Premium subscription watershed. No final decision has yet been made but a provisional decision must have been made by now. The draft code is scheduled for further discussion between the boards before it is finalised and published.

The notes and agenda from these board meetings don't usually reveal much however it is interesting to see the tense that has been used when referring to R18 content: "Under the current Broadcasting Code the transmission of such material on television was prohibited." Shouldn't that have been "is" prohibited?

Code publication update

Our latest information concerning the date of the publication for the new broadcast code is that Ofcom plans to publish it in "June". This was the view of Graham Howell (secretary to corporation) in a recent response to a Freedom of Information Act request. Unfortunately Ofcom do not consider that it is in the public interest to release the discussion papers that were the subject of debate at the recent board meetings. These papers will be published later, presumably when the code is published.

 

27th April   

Interview Content...

Link Here

Melon Farmers logoPaul Taverner interviewed Tim Suter and Matt Peacock at Ofcom Headquarters Riverside house back on the 7th April. The discussion covered the new broadcast code, adult service issues, how Ofcom deals with some of it’s processes and the future of broadcast regulation in the Internet age. The transcript of the full interview runs to 23 pages so Paul has also created a summary of some of the more notable points.

The following is just a taster from Paul

I interviewed Tim Suter and Matt Peacock at Ofcom Headquarters Riverside house back on the 7th April. The discussion covered the new broadcast code, adult service issues, how Ofcom deals with some of it’s processes and the future of broadcast regulation in the Internet age. The transcript of the full interview runs to 23 pages so I have also created a summary of some of the more notable points.

For those with limited time here is an outline

The broadcast code should be published “this side of the summer”, which in my book means before the 22nd July, although even this is not definite.

I made several attempts to discuss adult service issues including R18 broadcasting issues but largely without success (see transcript and summary), however I will be returning to interview Tim and Matt “the other side of the summer” after the code has been published. The controversy surrounding adult service issues appears to be so great that it even inhibits discussion of the existing code in any meaningful way, presumably for fear of sending the wrong signal or letting something slip.

I don’t think that this is right, but didn’t feel there was much to be gained at this point in time by turning this into a big issue. I was offered the opportunity for a more detailed explanation and justification of all decisions after the code has been published and I will reserve judgement until then, but if the outcome is anything other than respectful of adult service viewers the arguments will be vigorous indeed.

Tim made it clear that Ofcom did not accept that they were broadcast censors. I disagreed; unfortunately the dictionary definition is not clear cut, with different dictionaries providing different definitions. Putting aside the issue of individual judgements over whether a certain line has been crossed or not, it would seem beyond dispute to me that if the Ofcom code *forbids* R18 content on any channel at any time that this amounts to the prior restraint (i.e. censorship) of all R18 content. In a single sentence the current Ofcom code imposes prior restraint on an entire BBFC classification. To put that in perspective 1387 R18 titles were certified by the BBFC in 2004 compared to 870 18 titles. If that’s not censorship then I don’t know what is.

When discussing proscription orders Tim said “Of course Xtasi hasn’t been proscribed, we have put the paperwork into the secretary of state, but it hasn’t yet been proscribed.” I was surprised to say the least. More surprising still this was later confirmed by Matt – “we have passed this to DCMS, I understand that they have begun the process from their side but that this is not complete.”. OK so responsibility has moved on from Ofcom to the DCMS, but I’m rather surprised that people such as Tim and Matt weren’t more aware of the current situation, unless of course there is something that the DCMS aren’t telling us…? Further investigation required at the DCMS when I get five minutes.

There was a far greater interest in discussing the future of broadcasting standards in the Internet age. Basically within the next three to five years regulations will have to be radically changed as the unregulated Internet starts to merge with highly regulated world of traditional broadcasting. Ofcom do not want to be the regulators of the Internet, but believe that change of some sort must happen and that there is now a need for serious public debate over what is desirable. Ultimately Parliament will have to decide, within the bounds of what is possible. It was also suggested that massive strides in technology will soon impact broadcast television in a big way. With BT’s broadband speeds *quadrupling* last year from 512k to 2meg it won’t be that long before millions of people will have access to broadband television.

As porn is so often at the forefront of technological advances expect to see major changes very soon. The regulatory Titanic has struck the Internet iceberg. On the surface everything remains calm and tranquil, but below decks water is pouring in. The regulators know that it won’t take long

 

26th April   

Even More Clues...

Link Here

Melon Farmers logoMinutes of the 25th Ofcom Contents Board meeting
 
www.ofcom.org.uk/about/csg/ocb/content_board_notes/twenty_fifth

Draft Broadcasting Code: R18s (Adult Services)

The Content Board considered a number of papers on whether Ofcom should permit the television transmission of “R18” (or “R18” standard) sex material on premium subscription channels (which recommendation would then go to the Ofcom Board for consideration when the Ofcom Board reviewed the draft Broadcasting Code). The Content Board noted that there were strict legal restrictions on the retail supply of “R18” video tapes and DVDs - they could only be purchased in licensed sex shops and only by adults aged over 18 - but that there was no restriction currently on accessing such material on the internet. Under the current Broadcasting Code the transmission of such material on television was prohibited.

The Content Board made various comments on the papers which were to be considered by the Ofcom executive before the papers went to the Ofcom Board for a preliminary discussion. It was noted that this section of the Code would return to the Content Board for further discussion as part of the complete draft Code and statement before proceeding to the Ofcom Board for final approval before publication.

 

26th April   

More Clues...

Link Here

Melon Farmers logoSpotted by Kit Ryan.

Agenda of the Ofcom Contents Board meeting of April 18 2005 www.ofcom.org.uk/about/csg/ocb/agendas/twenty_sixth

1. Content and Standards issues

2. Draft Broadcasting Code: R18s

3. Draft Broadcasting Code: Final Code

4. Draft Broadcasting Code: Launch plans

The speculation is that any significant agenda item on the same bill as the  final code must surely mean that there is significant wording to discuss. Maintenance of the existing prohibition would take one sentence and would hardly need discussing.

 

18th April   

Looking for Clues...

Link Here

Melon Farmers logoOfcom published it's annual plan  for the coming year last week. The plan describes what projects Ofcom hope to run over the next 12 months and what it hopes to achieve. Searching through it we found the following statement on page 5 under "reducing regulation" - actions and proposals (2004/05):

Broadcasting Code:

Relaxation of sponsorship rules to provide greater flexibility and freedom for commercial partnerships but ensuring the key principles of transparency and editorial independence. Combined and modernised the former separate radio and television codes and aligned them with a less interventionist approach to provisions affecting those over 18.

Not really definitive but nevertheless a positive sign.

 

24th March   

Watching Ofwatch Chat to Ofcom...

Link Here

Melon Farmers logoKeep an eye on  Ofwatch

Through an arrangement with the good folk at Ofcomwatch Paul Tavener will be given the opportunity to interview Tim Suter, Ofcom's partner for content and standards. The interview will cover a variety of broadcasting standards issues and will be held in Ofcom's Headquarters at Riverside house London on the 7th April.

Speaking today Paul Tavener said, I will be raising a range of issues with Tim, including questions about the way in which Ofcom regulates, such as how guidance will be set, how impact assessments are carried out, how complaints are dealt with and the future of broadcast regulation. I will also be asking some questions covering the regulation of adult services such as censorship, proscription orders and the current regulatory practice with such services. Unfortunately, although perhaps not surprisingly, Tim will not be able to comment on detailed aspects of the new code at this point in time, nevertheless I feel that this will still leave a great deal of interest to many readers at both Ofcomwatch and Ofwatch.

Tim Suter is a member of both the Ofcom executive board and the Ofcom content board.

Paul Tavener is an anti-censorship campaigner and the webmaster for Ofwatch.

 

19th March   

OfSchedule, Hardcore Springs into Summer...

Link Here

Melon Farmers logoAnother tick of the Ofcom 4 season clock?

The notes of the Ofcom board's 50th meeting suggest that as we previously guessed the publication date for the new programme code has slipped from 'Spring' into 'Summer'.

The Broadcasting Code consultation raised a number of issues which will be considered in detail by the Policy Executive, Content Board and Main Board respectively, in accordance with the previously agreed work plan. The Board commented on a batch of papers covering particular sections of the Code. The full Code will be brought to the Board for approval in due course and is due to be published in early summer.

 

13th March   

Channel 4 Aren't Idiots...

Link Here

Melon Farmers logoChannel 4 have read the programme code regarding permissible films. It clearly states that all 18 rated films (for video) are OK to broadcast after 10pm. If Ofcom are not happy with this definition they should write their own rather than delegate to the BBFC. The BBFC correctly take no account of Ofcom's re-use of their guidelines when taking decisions. I am wondering if Ofcom will repeat their policy of using BBFC decisions. Eg, I could image that Ofcom may say that all R18 films may only be broadcast encrypted and PIN protected. I also note the possibility that the R18 certificate may eventually vanish and that hardcore porn may be classified 18. At that point all hardcore could then be broadcast free to air.

From The Independent

Channel 4 is to be investigated by broadcasting regulator Ofcom after breaking one of terrestrial TV's last taboos, airing uncensored footage of penetrative sex during a screening of the cult movie The Idiots.

The film, made by celebrated director Lars von Trier, had previously been shown with pixellation to obscure the more graphic footage in a sex scene, but last week it was shown unedited. Although it was a landmark TV first, few even noticed its significance because it was tucked away in a late-night slot and the station did not flag up its inclusion in advance. Ofcom, however, has now received a number of complaints which it is examining.

The screening comes as the debate about portrayals of real on-screen sex with graphic detail intensifies following the release two days ago of the film 9 Songs - the most explicit film to go into mainstream UK cinemas.

The Idiots was shown as part of Channel 4's "Banned" season of documentaries and films, which examined issues of censorship and taste. It was screened on Monday night at midnight, preceded by a warning about its content.

The Danish film was at the forefront of a wave of art-house films which containted increasingly frank portrayals of real sex yet were deemed suitable for an adult audience with an 18 certificate. These include Romance, Baise-Moi, Intimacy and Anatomy of Hell.

John Beyer, director of the campaign group Mediawatch-UK, said: Channel 4 is unquestionably pushing the boundaries and they are doing it quite deliberately. I guess that Channel 4 will be up there bidding for the television rights to 9 Songs along with all the other pornography channels. I just feel that Channel 4 is now beyond control, yet the regulator seems unable and unwilling to have anything to say about what Channel 4 is doing. I just don't know what can be done to stop this collapse of standards.

A spokeswoman for Ofcom confirmed it had received several complaints, which were being looked into: As ever, everything has to be taken in context - the time of broadcast and the scenes themselves. Ofcom's programme code says portrayals of sexual behaviour must be defensible in context and, where graphic, must be reserved for late-night slots.

Ofcom is currently revising its programme code and has consulted widely about relaxing a bar on the screening of R18 movies - hardcore pornography - for specialist subscription channels.

It demonstrated its "light touch" by dismissing a recent complaint against Five for briefly screening scenes of erect penises from the films Romance and Baise-Moi, which were also part of a censorship season in December.

Channel 4 defended the uncensored screening and said that it had a policy of not editing films, unless required to do so by the law or under Ofcom's code. Channel 4 decided it was not necessary to cut the film given its artistic merit, the fact that the explicit scenes are fleeting and the context in which the images appear, a spokeswoman for the station said.

With the explicit warning, she added, the audience would have been in no doubt about the film's content, and Channel 4 has received no complaints since the film was broadcast.
In its judgments and pronouncements on standards to date, Ofcom has indicated it is reluctant to interfere with the broadcast of stronger material broadcast late with warnings on 'minority channels', providing this is handled responsibly and can clearly be justified by context and so on.

 

1st March   

OfKilter...

Link Here

Melon Farmers logoBeware of self proclaimed attributes. Ofcom proclaiming themselves as "joined up" & "light touch" regulators is seeming about as appropriate as religions being "tolerant" or Fox News being "fair & balanced"

Based on an article from The Guardian

Channel 4 has been reprimanded by Ofcom for showing an animated film with non-realistic images of nudity before the 9pm watershed. Ofcom upheld 21 complaints about the three-minute animation, His Passionate Bride, which featured sparsely drawn images of female genitalia and scenes involving sexual intercourse and oral sex with accompanying sound effects.

The majority of complainants thought the film, broadcast at 7.55pm, was too sexually explicit to be shown before the watershed; some were concerned it was too violent and one thought it negatively stereotyped gay men.

Channel 4 defended the animation, saying it could not be mistaken for a children's cartoon and that the nudity was sparsely drawn and in no way voyeuristic, titillating or threatening. And the broadcaster said it warned viewers about the content before the programme was broadcast.

But Ofcom ruled that the film, which was sandwiched between Channel 4 News and cookery programme Beyond River Cottage, breached the programme code on two counts, one relating to family viewing and the watershed and the other in terms of its sex and nudity content.

The regulator said Channel 4's pre-broadcast announcement did not fully explain the content of the programme. In any event the programme was unsuitable for transmission at this time irrespective of any announcement.

Channel 4 was also found guilty of breaching the family viewing rules on a separate occasion, for broadcasting a music video showing three bikini-clad women washing a truck whilst being hosed down by fully dressed firemen during the Hit40UK chart show at 9.55am. Seven viewers complained that Channel 4 and two other broadcasters - Emap's Kiss TV and Chart Show TV - had played the video to Khia's song My Neck, My Back at an inappropriate time.

Chart Show TV said it had removed the song from its daytime playlist and rescheduled it to be shown only after 10pm. But Channel 4 and Emap defended their broadcasts and were found in breach of the programme code.

Elsewhere, Ofcom found Capital Radio station Xfm in breach of the news and current affairs code for letting DJ Eddy Temple Morris play an anti-George Bush song and put forward his personal political views on air. Sky One was castigated for broadcasting a trail for the Ian McShane cowboy series Deadwood that contained the word "fucking".

 

18th February   

Hard Definitions...

Link Here

Melon Farmers logoThanks to Rainman on the Melon Farmers Discussions

The current published Ofcom guidelines only define the prohibition on hardcore material in terms of '18' material is acceptable, 'R18' material is not. It is therefore useful to receive specific BBFC definitions of what is 18 and what is R18.

Given that Ofcom recently fined Playboy TV such a disproportionate for breaching the guidelines then it is interesting to wonder why other transgressions are not punished for tellycore. Presumably there is an unpublished document that allows material slightly beyond the 18 guidelines provided below.

Further clarification has been received from Peter Johnson, Senior BBFC Examiner:
The situation remains as follows: extreme close ups of genitalia; shots offering a view up a distended vagina or anus; clearly unassimilated shots of oral-genital or oral-anal contact (especially shots showing clear sight of contact of lips or tongue with anus, labia, clitoris, penis or scrotum); and clear sight of real, sustained masturbation are restricted to the 'R18' category and must be cut to obtain an '18'.

 

10th February   

Playboy Censors...

Link Here

Melon Farmers logoWhat a state of affairs, hardcore is what thousands of customers want, it is perfectly legal and yet a few crap rules from the dark ages can be still used to inflict softcore shite on the few people willing to pay for it. If Ofcom want to continue to use old rules they should at least attempt to justify their censorship as demanded by the European Convention of Human Rights. It is simple human rights rights abuse to provide no more justification than 'rules is rules guv'

Edited from a more detailed statement from Ofcom

Playboy TV UK/Benelux Limited fined £25,000 for showing R18 version material (and taking into account breaches of the Programme Code in relation to encrypted and unencrypted promotional material transmitted before 21:00)

On 1 May 2004 at 00:08, Playboy TV UK broadcast under encryption, R18 version material which is prohibited under the Code. It showed extremely graphic images of real sexual activity including close-ups of genital penetration.

The Sanctions Committee regards the admitted breaches of the Code as serious given the breaches were in relation to material that carries an absolute prohibition. The material, though not extreme in nature, was not a borderline example of what could or could not be broadcast in the UK, but a very clear breach of the relevant provisions of the Code.

Playboy TV UK admitted it was of a standard that is prohibited under the Code for transmission at any time, whether encrypted or not. According to Playboy TV UK the compliance failure was the result of human error. However, the Committee believed it also indicated a failure in Playboy TV UK’s management to institute adequate training and operational procedures necessary to avoid such breaches of the Code.

The Committee took into account as aggravating the seriousness of the Code breaches, the fact that these breaches occurred on just one of several separate occasions over a period of three days (from 30 April to 2 May 2004) when Playboy TV UK committed other breaches of the Code. On 30 April, it had broadcast images in pre-watershed promotional and other material, which though encrypted, were of an 18 standard (equivalent to BBFC 18 certificate standard), in breach of the Code which provides that this material should only be broadcast after 10pm. On 2 May, Playboy TV UK also broadcast promotional material on a free to air (unencrypted) basis at 20:21 which was more explicit than would be acceptable under the Code.

The free to air material was, in particular, insufficiently protective of the interests of children. Any broadcaster licensed to transmit adult encrypted material which is restricted to subscribers but has free to air promotions, has an obligation to ensure that no sexually explicit material is shown even inadvertently in free to air promotions. For the avoidance of doubt, Ofcom wishes to make it clear that any such infringement is not to be tolerated.

Ofcom took into account as mitigating the breaches Playboy TV UK’s frank admission that it had breached the Code and the contrition it expressed and the fact that all but one of the breaches occurred under encryption. The Committee also noted Playboy TV UK’s acceptance that it was appropriate to consider a financial penalty in respect of these breaches.

 

10th February   

Politically Delayed...

Link Here

Melon Farmers logoOfcom's chief executive Stephen Carter made a speech to the Westminster eForum on the 26th January showing that Ofcom is keenly aware of the political  implications of its actions and the necessity to time announcements to fit in with the political agenda (such as a probable May election).

"...by the time we have digested what we expect to be an extensive set of comments on 3rd February and developed our final proposals, it will be in the immediate run up to a May election and, though we are an independent regulator, that is never the best time to be announcing decisions that could have significant market and public policy impact".

Although the speech was made with reference to the possibility of a break up of BT there can be little doubt that exactly the same caution would have been applied to the deregulation of R18 content on television and may well have played a part in the decision to delay publication of the new broadcasting code by 4 months.

As was mentioned in January the new broadcasting code will not be published until May 2005 and is not expected to come into effect until July 2005. 

 

1st February   

Ringing in New Censors...

IMCB assigned task of censoring mobile phone content
Link Here

imcb logoRemit

IMCB’s remit is to determine a Classification Framework for Commercial Content against which
Content Providers can self-classify their own content (whether provided directly or indirectly) as
18 where appropriate. Such content will be placed behind Access Controls so that, when
combined with age verification arrangements, it is only available to those identified as 18 or
over.

Commercial Content services which fall within IMCB’s remit and the Classification Framework
include:

  • Still pictures
  • Video and audiovisual material
  • Mobile games, including java-based games

Services which fall outside IMCB’s remit and the Classification Framework are:

  • Text, audio and voice-only services, including where delivered as a Premium Rate
    Service and regulated by ICSTIS
  • Gambling services (because they are age restricted by UK legislation)
  • Moderated and unmoderated chat rooms (commercial unmoderated chat rooms will only
    be accessible by those 18 and over)
  • Location-Based Services (which are the subject of a separate Mobile Operator code of
    practice available at www.imcb.org.uk )
  • Content generated by subscribers, including web logs
  • Content accessed via the internet or WAP where the Mobile Operator is providing
    connectivity only

Specific Classification Framework

Content Providers have responsibility to ensure that the Commercial Content they are directly or
indirectly providing is not unlawful or illegal.

Where Commercial Content contains any content described in any of the sub-sections below it
must be rated as 18 for the purposes of this Classification Framework. As a general guide it
should be noted that if the content in question would be likely to be rated as 18 by an Agreed
Body if it was relevant to that body, then it should be rated as 18 under this Classification
Framework.

In addition, the context and style in which the content is being presented, whether
as a still picture or a video clip, should always be taken into account. Humorous content, such
as violence or combat techniques in a children’s cartoon, may therefore be acceptable.

The following list content that is to be rated 18

Themes:

  • No theme is specifically prohibited though these may be subject to other legal requirements. Content must not actively promote or encourage activities that are legally restricted for those under 18 such as drinking alcohol or gambling.

Language:

  • Frequent and repetitive use of the strongest foul language.

Sex:

  • Actual or realistic depictions of sexual activity, for example, Real or simulated sexual intercourse.
    Depiction of sexual activity involving devices such as sex toys.
  • Sexual activity with visible pubic areas and/or genitals or including threats of sexual
    violence such as rape.
  • Note, however, that material which genuinely seeks to inform and educate such as in matters of
    sexuality, safe sex and health and where explicit images are the minimum necessary to illustrate
    and educate in a responsible manner may be permissible.

Nudity

  • Nudity where depicting pubic area and/or genitals (unless it is material which genuinely seeks to
    inform and educate such as in matters of sexuality, safe sex and health and where explicit
    images are kept to the minimum necessary to illustrate and educate in a responsible manner).

Violence

  • Graphic violence which in particular dwells on the infliction of pain, injuries or scenes of sexual
    violence. In respect of mobile games in particular: Gross violence towards realistic humans or animals such as scenes of dismemberment, torture, massive blood and gore, sadism and other types of excessive violence. Graphic, detailed and sustained violence towards realistic humans and animals or violence towards vulnerable or defenceless humans.

Drugs

  • Depictions which promote or encourage illegal drug taking or which provide instructive details as to illegal drug taking.

Horror

  • Any depiction of sustained or detailed inflictions of pain or injury including anything which
    involves sadism, cruelty or induces an unacceptable sense of fear or anxiety.

Imitable techniques

  • Dangerous combat techniques such as ear-claps, head-butts and blows to the neck or any
    emphasis on the use of easily accessible lethal weapons, for example knives.
  • Detailed descriptions of techniques that could be used in a criminal offence.

 

27th January   

Ofcom Regulation Challenged by the Web...

Link Here

Melon Farmers logoBroadband broadcasting will certainly show the regulators just exactly how un-joined up they really are. As an adult viewer why exactly should I be constrained to a 10pm - 12pm window when this can be shown. This hardly applies to the net now does it. And of course R18s are fair game on the net but under considerable  doubt on subscription TV. The economics of demand will surely have its way very shortly

From the BBC

Net regulation 'still possible'

TV content on the net is becoming more common. The blurring of boundaries between TV and the internet raises questions of regulation, watchdog Ofcom has said. Content on TV and the internet is set to move closer this year as TV-quality video online becomes a norm.

At a debate in Westminster, the net industry considered the options. Lord Currie, chairman of super-regulator Ofcom, told the panel that protecting audiences would always have to be a primary concern for the watchdog.

Despite having no remit for the regulation of net content, disquiet has increased among internet service providers as speeches made by Ofcom in recent months hinted that regulation might be an option.

At the debate, organised by the Internet Service Providers' Association (ISPA), Lord Currie did not rule out the possibility of regulation. The challenge will arise when boundaries between TV and the internet truly blur and then there is a balance to be struck between protecting consumers and allowing them to assess the risks themselves, he said.

Adopting the rules that currently exist to regulate TV content or self-regulation, which is currently the practice of the net industry, will be up for discussion.

Some studies suggest that as many as eight million households in the UK could have adopted broadband by the end of 2005, and the technology opens the door to TV content delivered over the net. More and more internet service providers and media companies are streaming video content on the web.

BT has already set up an entertainment division to create and distribute content that could come from sources such as BSkyB, ITV and the BBC. Head of the division, Andrew Burke, spoke about the possibility of creating content for all platforms. How risque can I be in this new age? With celebrity chefs serving up more expletives than hot dinners, surely I can push it to the limit, he said.

Rn fact, he said, if content has been requested by consumers and they have gone to lengths to download it, then maybe it should be entirely regulation free.

Internet service providers have long claimed no responsibility for the content they carry on their servers since the Law Commission dubbed them "mere conduits" back in 2002. This defence does not apply if they have actual knowledge of illegal content and have failed to remove it. The level of responsibility they have has been tested in several high-profile legal cases.

Richard Ayers, portal director at Tiscali, said there was little point trying to regulate the internet because it would be impossible. Huge changes are afoot in 2005, he predicted, as companies such as the BBC offer TV content over the net.

The BBC's planned interactive media player which will give surfers the chance to download programmes such as EastEnders and Top Gear will make net TV mainstream and raise a whole new set of questions, he said.

One of these will be about the vast sums of money involved in maintaining the network to supply such a huge quantity of data and could herald a new digital licence fee, said Ayers.

As inappropriate net content, most obviously pornography viewed by children, continues to dominate the headlines, internet regulation remains a political issue said MP Richard Allan, Liberal Democrat spokesman on IT. Allan thinks that the answer could lie somewhere between the cries of "impossible to regulate" and "just apply offline laws online".

In fact, instead of seeing regulation brought online, the future could bring an end to regulation as we know it for all TV content. After Lord Currie departed, the panel agreed that this could be a reality and that for the internet people power is likely to reign. If content is on-demand, consumers have pulled it up rather than had pushed to them, then it is the consumers' choice to watch it. There is no watershed on the net, said Burke.

 

19th January   

Confirmed OfSchedule...

Link Here

Melon Farmers logoIt is anticipated that the Ofcom Broadcasting Code will be published  around the end of May 2005. This is due to the large number of responses received and the considerable number of points made by respondents.

 

17th January   

OfSchedule...

Link Here

Melon Farmers logoPerhaps the UK's adult channels should now consider suing Ofcom for loss of earnings. Ofcom are prolonging unnecessary censorship without justification. On a more cynical political note, I wonder if 'late spring' means the day after the election.

From www.ofwatch.org.uk

The publication of the new broadcasting code has been delayed by four months.

As many of you will be aware Ofcom had previously publicly stated that it expected to publish it's new broadcasting code at the end of January. With just two weeks left Ofwatch decided to ask exactly when publication might be expected to take place. The harrowing response from Fran O'Brien of Ofcom's content and standards group on Sunday afternoon was "late spring"! In my book this means May, although it is conceivable that this could refer to Late April or even early June.

It would appear that the large quantity of replies that Ofcom received to the standards consultation last year has raised many "interesting points" that need to be considered. No doubt the response made by the BBC (see news item from 4th October last year) has provided many of them. Perhaps the regulators have finally realised that they have a tiger by the tail with this new code and are in no hurry to let go of it.

Ms O'Brien also stated that not all of the decisions had been taken yet regarding the code. Whether this indecision extended to the question of R18 broadcasting or not was not specified, but as the majority of the responses to the consultation concentrated on this topic it would seem likely. Judging by the agenda items and notes published on Ofcom's website it is quite clear that a considerable amount of discussion has already taken place within both the content board and the executive board. The fact that another 4 months are now required to sort it out may indicate that there has been some significant internal disagreement.

 

4th January   

Muff Muffled...

Link Here

Melon Farmers logoBased on a story from Chortle

Channel 4 have escaped censure for broadcasting the word cunt on afternoon TV. Comic Janey Godley uttered it on reality show Kings Of Comedy, during one of the live feeds from the house transmitted on digital station E4.

One nutter was so offended at the expletive that he complained to broadcasting Ofcom watchdog, which today ruled that the issue was resolved.

E4 did apologise for the ‘unfortunate error’, which came just before 3pm on October 10, during an exchange between Glaswegian Godley and fellow comic Stan Boardman, who was also living in the reality house.

The broadcaster said it would have apologised at the time, but did not notice the bad language in what was a genuine mistake. The shows are transmitted with a time delay that allows producers to censor bad language or libellous comments, but this was missed. E4 said that Godley had lowered her tone when she uttered the expletive, which had also been partly obscured by Stan Boardman’s laughter. As the camera was primarily on Boardman at the time, the production team was focussing on his speech rather than hers.

Ofcom ruled:
We agree that such swearing is unacceptable for broadcast at that time of day. However, the word was certainly somewhat muffled and we understand how it came to be overlooked. We are satisfied that the channel has measures in place to enable unsuitable material to be edited out, and accept that this was an individual lapse. In view of E4’s response to this matter, we consider the issue resolved.

Ofcom logo

Ofcom

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 BBC

  • 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 channels)

Websites:
www.ofcom.org.uk

Melon Farmers Pages:
Ofcom Watch
File sharing at Ofcom