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20th December   

The Hype of Rome...

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Re 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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The 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.

 

18th December   

Season of Goodwill to All...Execpt Nutters and Turkeys...

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Chef Gordon Ramsay's TV show is being investigated by watchdogs after showing scenes of turkeys being slaughtered. Seven viewers complained after The F Word showed Ramsay carrying six turkeys into a slaughter van where they were strung up, stunned and killed.

Broadcasting watchdog Ofcom launched an investigation. The Channel 4 show was preceded by a content warning.

The chef raised the birds in his back garden as part of the series, as he wanted his young children to understand where their food came from.

 

17th December   

Television With Unenforceable Frontiers...

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The UK's content and new media industry is "extremely disappointed" by proposals contained within the European Commission's Television Without Frontiers directive, according to pressure group Intellect.

The directive gained a high profile this week after the EC announced plans to loosen the rules on product placement in TV programmes.

But Intellect, which represents IT and telecoms firms in the UK, said that its members see the new directive as an attempt to regulate the internet.

Intellect, whose members include BT and Microsoft, stated that such regulation can already be achieved voluntarily under Ofcom guidelines.

An Intellect spokeswoman said that the group had been opposing the directive for six months, but had "hit a brick wall". It maintains that the new media industry is moving so quickly that the rules "would need changing again in 2010 ".

The main concern is the distinction between linear services, i.e. scheduled television broadcasting, and non-linear services such as programmes accessed through video-on-demand or clips downloaded onto mobile phones.

Ofcom has suggested that such regulations would be unenforceable and that its own impact assessment had found that the costs would outweigh the benefits.

 

15th December   

Television Without Frontiers but With Barriers...

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The European Commission have published their proposed new directive for audio-visual services together with an impact assessment . The proposals will (in the fullness of time) replace existing regulation under the Television Without Frontiers directive.

As expected the new proposals include requirements to regulate some Internet based services and generally upholds the country of origin principle, but the draft also suffers from a number of deficiencies. It is badly worded in places and vague in others, including passages such as “ non-linear audiovisual media services have the potential to partially replace linear services ”- hardly a clear and definitive statement of intent. It would be far better to wait a few more years before regulating in this area, but as we all no regulators just can't say no to regulation. 

Ofwatch will be taking a closer look at these documents in the new year.

Under new rules proposed by the European Commission, some of the requirements currently imposed on traditional broadcasters would be applied to film and video-on-demand providers.

While this would not include some of the requirements traditional broadcasters face, such as bans on advertising certain types of products like tobacco or medicines or quotas on the amount of European-produced films they offer, it would include some measures such as having to provide a "culturally diverse" range of content. This might involve requirements in terms of the catalogue they offer, said Martin Selmayr, a European Commission spokesman.

Other requirements to be applied to online service providers include proposals protecting children from unsuitable material and preventing online racial hatred.

The new rules have come under fire from the European Internet Service Providers Association (EurISPA). The Commission failed to justify why it needed to extend the current rules to new service providers, according to Richard Nash, secretary-general of EurISPA. He quoted a recent report by the UK's telecommunications regulator Ofcom, saying that the risks of applying the traditional rules to new forms of service providers "outweighed the benefits."

He also criticised the way that the Commission proposed new basic rules for all 25 EU member states, but left it up to each national government to decide how to enforce those rules: To build a single market for online services across the EU you need consistency. The Commission's approach will put a major obstacle in the way of businesses developing new products. The online services market is still in its infancy, he said, but the sector needs "business certainty" to have incentives to develop new services and content for consumers.

The new rules will have to be approved by representatives of member state governments and members of the directly elected European Parliament before coming into force.

 

7th December   

A Frosty Warning...

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A 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.

 

22nd November   

Ofcon Take Wrestling Seriously...

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Sky 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.

 

22nd November   

Ofcon Swear by their Research...

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Worthless 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.

 

12th November   

Like Lambs to the Slaughter...

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Jamie Oliver was slammed by animal welfare campaigners yesterday for killing a lamb on his TV show. Viewers saw the chef cut the animal's throat in Jamie's Great Escape on Wednesday. The lamb had its legs tied - but it was not stunned first.

Advocates for Animals said Jamie should be "thoroughly ashamed". It added: Slitting a lamb's throat while it is fully conscious will undoubtedly cause terrible suffering. It is widely acknowledged that the most humane way is for them to be stunned before killing. This kind of brutal slaughter shows no compassion or respect for the poor animal.

Jamie - whose Channel 4 series is filmed in Italy - killed and cooked the lamb for a feast on a farm. Clearly apprehensive before doing so he said: I do not know if I can do it ... I have never done that before. Not with a knife anyway. Jamie grimaced as he killed the animal, adding: A chef who's cooked 2,000 sheep should kill at least one, otherwise you're a fake. Then he helped skin it.

John Beyer, director of MediaWatch, said even though Channel 4 warned viewers of the graphic content, many children would have watched the show. He said: "Channel 4 should have paid attention to people's sensitivities. The scheduling of this scene before the watershed was inappropriate."

Regulator Ofcom said it had seven complaints from the public. A spokeswoman said: " We are looking into these with regard to our code of practice."

Jamie's spokesman said: The method was considered humane by all present.

Channel 4 said: We were aware of the sensitivity of the scene and ensured that it was clearly flagged to viewers immediately before the programme. The programme reflected the way many animals in Italy are reared and butchered and aimed to make the audience think about how their own food is sourced.

 

9th November   

Responsible for a Crap PIN Implementation...

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Melon Farmers logoAs far as I can see the Sky implementation is only applicable to households with all children under 12 and where the parents are happy to accept the programme classifications. The implementation is simply wrong for all of the other combinations and it is easy to see that everyone else will be annoyed and irritated by unnecessary or incorrect PIN requirements.

Presumably this all started off as Sky felt that parents wouldn't turn on the PIN system voluntarily and that Sky know better how people's kids should be raised.

Sky should be told to fuck off, drop their patronising control freakery and get the OFF button restored. Pronto!

Thanks to Peter who wrote the following letter to Sky

I have recently become aware that there is a mandatory PIN protection on 15 and 18 rated recordings on my sky+ box.

Is there a way to circumvent this, or provide me with explicit control over this feature?

It would likewise be useful if one could set different PINs for different restriction categories in the parental control settings.

Sky Replied:

Thank you for your recent communication, we value your feedback and welcome this opportunity to explain our position.

The objectives behind the recent parental control enhancements were to act responsibly as a broadcasting organisation and respond to our customers' needs, many of whom have young families. As programme offerings expand and change, especially amongst free-to-air channels, we want to take all steps to ensure that our customers are able to control household viewing, and protect their children from accessing material that may otherwise be deemed unsuitable if they so choose .. Whilst these objectives have been achieved by the upgrade and the response has been very positive, we recognise that the out-of-watershed PIN control enhancement has caused problems for some customers.

When we develop enhancements to any of our services, ease of use is one of the most important aspects.

We considered and tested a number of options to provide customers greater control over

  • The ability to watch free-to-air and "basic" channels, where there has been a substantial increase in the availability, variety and nature of adult orientated content
  • The appearance of adult channel listings in Sky Guide
  • The extension of PIN protection to programmes recorded after 8pm with Sky+ (post watershed) and played back between 6am and 8pm (out-of-watershed)

After consultation with customers, channels and other interested groups it was felt the best solution to the out-of-watershed playback issue was to make programme ratings (i.e. whether the content is suitable for viewing by children aged over 12 years, or young persons aged 15 or 18 and over) automatically trigger the PIN protection. This was viewed as the most effective implementation option supported by our customer research. For Sky+ customers this means that a PIN request is automatically generated for 12+ rated movies and other content when it is played out of watershed.

As a result of feedback we are now investigating a range of options to further improve the PIN control features. We hope to be able to introduce these as soon as possible, after successful tests have been performed.

I do hope that my explanation goes some way to addressing your concerns, and I'd like to thank you for taking the time to bring your comments to our attention.

Gordon Smith
Viewer Relations

 

7th November   

Hopping Mad...

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The concept of controlling home viewing via a single PIN and no customer setting is surely doomed to failure. I cannot conceive of how this can be possibly be implemented as a useful service to all customers. As a person living in an adults only house I just want to turn all PINs off until further notice. Anything else will simply be unacceptably infuriating. It sounds like the half wits in control wont even allow channel hopping. Roll on IPTV so I can choose a TV provider who lets me control my own life.

From Gary on The Melon Farmers' Forum

I notice that TCM have started pin protecting any 18-rated movies they show at 9pm - Slap Shot tonight and the Outlaw Josey Wales the other week. Very annoying as you have to re-enter the pin if you change channel and go back to it!

This, despite the fact that they screened 18-rated films at 9pm (including Goodfellas) with no protection before the recent Ofcom changes...

From Big Andrew on The Melon Farmers' Forum

It isn`t TCM doing it. It is Sky. Anything 18 rated shown on any channel will require a PIN prior to 10pm.

 

5th November   

An Orgy of Exaggeration...

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Melon Farmers logoThe first episode of Rome , BBC Two’s period drama, was watched by 6.6 million people.

The programme, which included scenes of sex and violence shown just after the watershed, attracted 80 complaints from viewers. The £60 million series, which was co-produced with HBO, the American cable channel, features full-frontal nudity, crucifixion and throat slashing. The first episode attracted a 27 per cent audience share between 9pm and 9.50pm, according to unofficial figures.

The BBC contributed £10 million to the 11-part series, which follows the life of Julius Caesar from his conquest of Gaul to his assassination in 44BC.

 

4th November   

Sky+ Minus Common Sense...

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Want to watch a racy late-night movie the next afternoon instead? If you recorded it on Sky+ you had better know your pin number. Sky is distributing an update to its 7.8 million subscribers that improves parental controls, by allowing viewers to "lock out" specific channels, or block all the adult channels completely.
That is good news for the 60% of subscribers with children, or those overwhelmed by the sheer number of channels. There are 400 channels in Britain, more than anywhere else in Europe. Another nine launched in September alone. Adult channels outnumber children's channels 29 to 24 (with 11 launched in the past 18 months).

Any channel that can satisfy Ofcom's licensing requirements can launch on digital satellite, and Sky says parents have been demanding more controls. In a BBC survey last year, 86% of people wanted regulation to prevent unsuitable images in TV programmes aimed at children, and Ofcom found that 42% of households with children use a pin to block some channels already.

But while the new controls are handy for parents, there are drawbacks. Some broadcasters award movie-style ratings such as 15 or 18 to certain programmes; Sky+ subscribers will need to use their pin if they want to play them back before the 9pm watershed, as all such programmes will be automatically locked.

At the moment, this mostly affects Sky's movie channels and the adult networks; not many other broadcasters choose to rate individual programmes. This leads to inconsistencies. A recording from Sky Movies of Anaconda or Constantine will need unlocking (they are rated 15), as will Get Carter, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Blood Sucking Freaks (all rated 18) and both Meet the Fockers and Hotel Rwanda (perhaps surprisingly rated 12). Record the unrated Cannibal Killer on Reality TV, and you will not need the pin to watch it, day or night.

It is easy for new Sky subscribers (and their children) to find the pin: it is the last four digits on the viewing card, so it is a good idea to change it fairly quickly. Viewers who have had the service for longer will have a pin matching their first viewing card, which is probably long gone. Subscribers who do not know their pin can reset it by calling an 0870 number (at a pricey 7.5p a minute at peak rate or up to 40p a minute from a mobile phone).

And it is not only time-shifting movie buffs who may find the mandatory pin inconvenient. Sky only allows subscribers one number, which covers pay-per-view programmes and movies from Sky Box Office as well as all the parental controls. If you want to let your 15 year old watch 12- and 15-rated movies while you are out shopping on a Saturday afternoon, you will have to give them the pin, which gives them access to all the channels, recordings and pay-for content. The same goes for adult flatmates and visitors: you cannot choose which level of programmes or features to restrict.

Viewers who complain about needing a pin to watch recordings are told by Sky: We recognise that the out-of-watershed pin control enhancement has caused problems for some customers. As a result of feedback we are now investigating a range of options to further improve the pin control features. We hope to be able to introduce these as soon as possible, after successful tests have been performed.

As with computer passwords, forcing unwilling viewers to use a pin will not necessarily increase security. Forgetful viewers will probably write their pin on the Sky box or the remote control. Ofcom found that more than 60% of children say they know the pin their parents use to block channels - though more than 60% of parents believe their children do not know it. As with the internet, voluntary rating is not going to catch many of the shows parents will most want to block: the most effective way of controlling what children watch is to sit in front of the TV with them.

From Shaun

If you play an 18 or 15 rated recording back on Sky+ outside the watershed hours, EG during the day, you have to enter the PIN.

So if your 16 year old is in the house alone in the day, and you want to allow them to watch "15" rated movies recorded on Sky+, then you have to enter your PIN and this is NOT optional. This means the PIN you give them, also allows them access to 18 rated movies PPV etc. etc.

This could only be thought out by idiots.

The parental controls are there, but they are simply more restrictive.

update 4th November

From Peter & Nick

After previously stating that the Sky+ PIN requirement could be turned off, Peter now reports that 15/18 rated films require a mandatory PIN. Presumably his Sky+ box has been 'upgraded'.

He says: That is a considerable inconvenience for households with NO children, let alone the above problem with older teenagers

Thanks also to Nick who reports that random films on the Horror Channels have been mandatorily PIN protected on a normal Sky set top box

 

 

3rd November   

Aroused by Dummies...

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A suggestive car advert that shows a female mannequin with erect nipples has been cleared of causing offence by the advertising watchdog, despite attracting 425 complaints.

Hundreds of people complained that the cinema and TV commercial for Mazda - in which a shop window dummy becomes "aroused" after a ride in the back of a car - was offensive, demeaned women and was unsuitable for children.

The advert is the fifth most complained about TV commercial of recent times, with 425 people contacting the Advertising Standards Authority.

However, the ASA decided that the sexual innuendo in the ad was subtle enough to escape the attention of children and it accepted arguments that the depiction of sexuality was akin to that found in a Carry On film.

The ASA rejected all complaints against the Mazda campaign, created by JWT, a division of Sir Martin Sorrell's WPP. It ruled that the ad was " \based on mildly sexual material and was not excessively explicit. We understood that the depiction of a mannequin becoming aroused by the excitement of a journey in a car may not have been to everyone's taste but we did not consider it likely to cause serious or widespread offence .

The ASA ruled that the intention was not to insult or offend," but to humorously present the absurd notion that an inanimate object could be turned on in the first place.

JWT said that the advert highlighted the exciting aspects of a type of car that may be regarded by some sections of the audience as "uninspiring". The agency pointed to consumer research that showed UK audiences reacted positively to the ad and its adult theme. JWT said that the use of mannequins instead of real people contributed to the humour of the ad.

The ad shows a man loading a number of female mannequins, dressed in lingerie, into the back of a Mazda. As the man drives, a mannequin's hand hitches up its negligee to expose the top of its stockings. When the driver parks outside a lingerie store and lifts one of the mannequins out of the car its nipples are erect and the sound of a woman's giggle can be heard. The all new Mazda 5. Surprisingly stimulating , the voiceover says.

A post-7.30pm scheduling restriction was placed on the ad for TV to avoid times when young children might be watching.

The Cinema Advertising Association, which approves adverts before they are screened in cinemas, said that the sexual reference in the advert was mild in comparison with many films given a PG rating.

 

25th October   

Programme Code Should be Pulped...

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Ofcom 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.

 

19th October   

An Orgy of Hype...

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The BBC has defended its decision to screen multimillion-pound historical drama Rome at 9pm, despite scenes of sex, nudity and violence, arguing it shows how Romans really lived.

The drama, which goes out immediately after the 9pm watershed, is expected to generate a wave of complaints. The BBC had ruled out showing the drama at a later time because it wants to get maximum exposure for the series.

Jane Tranter, BBC controller of drama commissioning, said: This is how people lived. It shows Rome in all its bloodiness and viscerality.

Bruno Heller, lead writer on the drama, said: You can't understand that period in history unless it shocks you. You were allowed to murder your neighbour or covet his wife if it didn't piss off the wrong person. Mercy was a weakness, cruelty a virtue, and all that mattered was personal honour, loyalty to yourself and family,

In the first few minutes of the opening episode viewers see Caesar's niece, played by Polly Walker, topless and astride one of her lovers as slaves look on.

The series is likely to land the BBC in hot water with broadcasting watchdog Ofcom.

The series, made by the BBC and US broadcaster HBO is a 12-part drama series on Julius Caesar and the rise of the Roman empire will broadcast on BBC Two from November 2 at 9pm
.

 

13th October   

Sex and Violence on TV...

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Bloodsucking Freaks Congratulations to THE HORROR CHANNEL. Last week I was pleasantly surprised to see THE HORROR CHANNEL chose to show BLOODSUCKING FREAKS in all its gory glory and there was me thinking this film was banned in the UK. Well done THE HORROR CHANNEL for showing this perverse masterpiece!!

Ofcom can shit a brick next month with their contextualised/non contextual sex nonsense as Sky Box Office is showing 9 Songs . Can`t wait for the headlines in the Mail and Express, and as for Christian Voice - if their creed has an equivalent of a Fatwa, then I`m sure they will wage one. Let the fun begin.

This is a complete joke. People who want to watch hardcore sex on dedicated channels to get off on it can`t. Others who don`t particularly want to watch hardcore sex, can.

The issue is quite simply whether or not they want to wank off over it. If they want to wank off over it, then Ofcom will ban it. Nothing to do with protection of children. Everything to do with imposing a narrow minded repressive ideology on the rest of us.

 

5th October   

Fair Criticism...

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Allegations of bias in the BBC’s coverage of the Middle East are to be investigated by an independent panel, the corporation announced yesterday. Sir Quentin Thomas, president of the BBFC, will lead the review into reporting of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which regularly provokes criticism from both sides. The inquiry is the latest in a series of reviews of BBC reporting of highly charged subjects such as religion and the EU.

 

1st October   

Mandatory Incompetence at Sky...

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As observed by Shaun

Sky have just introduced new parental controls for their Sky+ box. This might be considered a "good thing", in some ways. BUT:

On Sky+, if you want to play back any 15, or 18 rated recording before the watershed, you now HAVE to enter your PIN number. There is NO option to prevent that, in the settings. It is IMPOSED on you, EVEN if there are no children in the house. One person at Sky arrogantly said it is here to stay, and there is nothing you can do about it.!

HOWEVER in their wisdom, they have in fact made parental control HARDER than it was before.

How on earth do I ALLOW my 15 year old son, to watch 15 rated movies, in the day, which he is old enough to do, in our absence, WITHOUT having to give him my one and only PIN number which would ALSO allow him to watch 18 rated movies, including adult programmes if I had subscribed to any of them, and recorded them ?

Currently I don't have this flexibility. I have to give him ALL or NOTHING.

In the past, I could simply apply restriction to 18 rated content in the parental control menu, and this would prevent playback and viewing of 18 rated content at any time, but allow 15 rated content.

Clearly the idiots at Sky and elsewhere, have not thought this one through. It makes me wonder if they are really fit to be in charge of a service such as this ?

 

28th September   

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

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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.

 

18th September   

Pissing on TV: Censorship History Made...

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Thanks to Peter Woods

A little bit of censorship history was made last night with the uncut screening on FilmFour of Taxi Zum Klo .

In a nutshell: "autobiographical pre-AIDs gay hardcore sex comedy" (and you don`t see many of those nowadays !).

The pissing scene really was as graphic as you`ll ever get: one guy pissing all over another`s face and into his mouth; the receiver clearly enjoying it. The scene is textbook urolagnia and would fit quite happily in a "real" porn film. In passing this scene (something for which the BBFC should be congratulated), I`d say that it`s only a matter of time before we see urolagnia in R18`s.

 

14th September   

Make Poverty and Censorship History...

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Make 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...

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When Ofcom stops ignoring complaints about brief snippets of hardcore on UK satellite channels, I wonder if they will argue that the snippets of hardcore are brief and wont be spotted by viewers so can be ignored

From Ofcom complaints bulletin

Cruising 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

 

7th September   

Watershed for the Watershed...

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Melon Farmers logoTwenty per cent of parents in homes with digital TV think the watershed is no longer relevant, according to a new survey. One in five parents now believes that advances in digital TV technology, which let viewers watch what they want, when they want, make the traditional 9pm cut-off point obsolete, the survey reveals.

The research undertaken for Homechoice, the digital TV service, shows that 43% of parents in digital TV homes believe they, rather than the regulator-set watershed, should determine what their children watch.

According to the survey, more than a third of parents would use a special child's remote control, which can bar anything other than kids' channels, while more than 20% would use personal PIN codes designed to prevent youngsters from accessing adult-oriented fare.

More and more of us are experiencing the ever-changing world of digital television. We can now have access to hundreds of channels and literally thousands of programmes at the touch of a button, said John Carr, an internet specialist at children's charity NCH. Before this new era, we were all able to rely on the trusted watershed. However, in the more complex world we now live in, service providers and parents both have a responsibility to protect children from unsuitable content that could be available at any time of the day."

According to responses from around 500 digital homes, less than 2% of parents think broadcasters should be solely responsible for regulating what their children watch, with 55% believing it should be shared between parents and broadcasters.

Though the majority of parents say they are still concerned about violence and sex on TV, twice as many were more concerned about scenes of graphic brutality than they were about sex.

It is encouraging that parents are taking an active interest in their children's viewing as digital technology continues to bring increased choice, said Roger Lynch, the chief executive and chairman of Homechoice.
Before digital television, we relied on and trusted the watershed, but now we have to look at other ways to help keep the entertainment experience relevant and appropriate for the audience.

 

6th September   

Golden Showers on Film Four...

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The UK TV premiere of Taxi Zum Klo is on Film Four Channel on Friday 16th September (midnight). People will finally get to see whether the BBFC has indeed passed a golden shower.

 

4th September   

G Spot G Rated...

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Melon Farmers logoThe BBC is launching a cinema-style classification to warn parents of programmes containing sex, violence and strong language. Programmes suitable mostly for adults are to be labelled with the symbol “G” for “guidance”.

Initially the G-certificate will be available only to people viewing on their computers, but audiences using the next generation of televisions should be able to click on the symbol on their screens to be alerted to the adult content. The symbol could eventually replace the traditional 9pm watershed.

The corporation is introducing the system to coincide with the release of most of the output of BBC1, BBC2 and its other networks on the internet. Many of its radio programmes are already available “on demand” in this way for seven days after they have been broadcast.

Because viewers will be able to watch programmes from the previous week’s output whenever they want, children will no longer be protected by the conventional watershed.

Initially only 5,000 viewers taking part in a trial this month of the BBC’s system for downloading programmes — the “integrated media player” — will encounter the G-system. Now, any BBC programme included in the new service will have to be classified as G or non-G.

If downloading television programmes on computer becomes nationally available — the BBC’s director-general Mark Thompson is hoping to win the governors’ approval to launch it next year — the G-symbol will become familiar in almost every household and is likely to be adopted by other broadcasters. We need to give audiences the equivalent of a new watershed, to give them a different signpost ,” said Rachel Hermer, the BBC adviser on editorial policy.

Parents will be able to adjust computers so children cannot watch G-rated programmes without permission.

 

27th August   

Fresh Blood...

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The Horror Channel has been acquired by Zone Vision Networks which has pledged to inject funds to provide it with new programming. Under the rejuvenation, due to take place next month, The Horror Channel will have new titles and classic horror films.

Zone Vision acquired the free-to-air Horror Channel, which broadcasts on Sky's digital platform, for an undisclosed sum from founder Tony Hazell.

Horror is a very popular genre right now, said Zone Vision's programming chief Adam Robinson.
Our aim is to open up to a new audience, appealing to the mainstream viewer, as well as satisfying the existing hard core horror fan by acquiring cult movies.

 

16th August   

No Vice Advice...

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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".

 

9th August   

Popetown Straight to DVD via Hell...

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Popetown , the BBC commissioned cartoon satire about the Vatican that proved too hot - or too unfunny - for the BBC to handle last year, was last night said to be being released as a DVD by a private company.

The 10-part programme, originally commissioned in 2002, which features an infantile, pogostick-wielding pontiff voiced by the comedienne Ruby Wax, provoked the wrath of many British Catholics, including the church's hierarchy, in an orchestrated campaign to secure its cancellation.

Bishop Joseph Devine of Motherwell declared the series, which he had not seen, as an irreverent, gratuitous and publicly funded attack on [the] faith. The complainants were particularly outraged that the show had been commissioned at a cost of about £2m. Some took it as a sign of the BBC's alleged anti-Catholic bias, even though the director general, Mark Thompson, is a Catholic.

The BBC eventually announced that it would not show the series - on the grounds that it was not good enough. A spokesman last night said that the BBC was not involved in the release, which is being handled by a company called Revolver.

Popetown 's director, Phil Ox, insisted the DVD would go on sale next month and branded Catholics who found it offensive as evil. He said:
I am glad that it is finally out there. I should just remind everybody that viewing this show can destroy your soul.

 

4th August   

Channel 4 Has Bottle...

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Based on an article from The Guardian

Channel 4 was last night facing renewed calls from nutters to take the reality television series Big Brother off the air after a housemate shocked a handful off viewers with her drunken behaviour. Around 80 complaints were lodged with Ofcom, the broadcasting regulators.

During Tuesday night's Big Brother highlights show on Channel 4, broadcast at 10pm, one of the female contestants was shown simulating sex with a blow-up dog, appearing to perform sex acts with a bottle and kissing two male housemates while topless in the house jacuzzi.

The episode was edited so that her most shocking moments were relayed through the horror expressed on her housemates' faces, while she was heard on voice-over, and a verbal warning went out as the programme began transmission.

Ratings for Tuesday's show peaked at 5.4 million, a 38% audience share, which is somewhere in the middle of Big Brother's long-term fortunes, but a step up for the latest series which has seen audiences dwindle in recent weeks.

Kinga Karolczak has since apologised and said she had only been joking. She was first brought into the house with two others via a secret garden in late June, but after just three days she was evicted by a fellow housemate. On Sunday night she was brought back in to stir things up and boost ratings.

She had already bared her chest during her brief time in the secret garden and four hours after her return this weekend prompted a game of truth or dare in the hot tub. The dares were invariably sexual and soon she had "snogged" two of her male housemates, taken off her top and was asking the only other woman in the house if she fancied her.

On Monday night Karolczak took things a step further, putting a wine bottle up her skirt and giving the impression she was masturbating in front of the other contestants. She was then seen going off to the garden where she lay down by herself with the bottle between her legs.

John Beyer from the nutters at Mediawatch-UK said: It is absolutely appalling although it was thoroughly predictable. From the outset Channel 4 has calculated that this kind of thing was going to happen. Channel 4 is a public service broadcaster that has high aspirations for quality and innovation but this sort of indecent pornographic behaviour shows Big Brother for what it really is, which is just to be controversial. The time has come for the plug to be pulled on this.

Ofcom said it investigates every complaint made about a transmission but is a post-transmission regulator and cannot ban programmes before they are aired.

Channel 4 said it had received a number of phone calls, but that was normal for the series. Kinga's antics on Monday night went out post-watershed and as always with Big Brother there was a voice over before before the programme alerting viewers to the nature of some scenes, said a spokeswoman.

 

19th July   

Censors Cannot Do Job as they are Censored...

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Melon Farmers logoITN has apologised after a lunchtime ITV news bulletin inadvertently featured a link to a porn website.
The website, broadcast during a report about children and train lines, was assumed by staff to be inactive after access was blocked by ITN's firewall.

The address, transmitted on 9 June, was obscured in later bulletins. ITN accepted that the website address should not have been included in the broadcast, and apologised for the error, said a statement from Ofcom. We accept ITN's explanation of how the website address came to be transmitted, said Ofcom.
The importance of stringent checks has been reinforced to editorial staff.

 

8th July   

Juvenile Television Studies...

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Melon Farmers logoChildren who watch a lot of television and have a set in their bedroom do significantly worse at school than others and are less likely to reach university, research suggests.

A series of studies published today indicate the damage done by television to children’s development and progress at school. One, by scientists in New Zealand, found that those who watched the most television were the least likely to leave school with qualifications and had a smaller chance of getting a university degree.

In another independent project, conducted in the United States by researchers at Stanford and Johns Hopkins universities, children who had televisions in their rooms were found to be lower academic achievers. Those without a bedside TV but who had access to a computer at home, did significantly better at mathematics, reading and language tests than their peers.

A third study, by researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle, found that television could impair the development of very young pre-school children but may have some benefits for those aged between three and five.

The three studies appear this month in Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, a journal published by the American Medical Association. An accompanying editorial said that parents should choose with care programmes that stimulate and are appropriate to the age of their children.

The New Zealand team conducted a long-term study of more than 1,000 children aged 5, 7, 9, 11, 13 and 15. The results of this study indicate that increased time spent watching television during childhood and adolescence was associated with a lower level of educational attainment by early adulthood. Lower mean viewing hours between 5 and 11 years of age were a stronger predictor of achieving a university degree.

The Stanford study followed a diverse group of almost 400 third-grade pupils, with an average age of eight, at six Californian schools. Children with a TV in their bedrooms, but no home computer, achieved the worst scores in school achievement tests. Those in the reverse situation scored the highest.

Thomas Robinson, from the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford, who led the research, said: This study provides even more evidence that parents should take the television out of their child’s room, or not put it there in the first place. The researchers, who found that more than 70 per cent of pupils reported having a television in their bedroom, did not know why it had such an effect on examination results.

The third study analysed data on 1,797 children from a survey of mathematics, reading and comprehension skills in America. Frederick Zimmerman and Dimitri Christakis, from the University of Washington, reported a consistent pattern of negative associations between television before age three years and adverse cognitive outcomes at ages 6 and 7 years.

 

6th July   

Ad Makes Nutters Spitting Mad...

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A television advertisement for Fanta that shows people spitting out the soft drink has been banned before 9pm after complaints that it encouraged anti-social behaviour in children.

Many people complained that the Fanta ad was ‘disgusting.’ Hundreds of viewers complained to the Advertising Standards Authority that it set a bad example.

The advertisement features a young couple on a beach who drink from a can of Fanta Light and spit it out. Others follow their example.

The ASA received 272 complaints, including many from people who said it was "disgusting". One headteacher objected to the advert believing that it had triggered copycat behaviour in his playground.

Coca-Cola said the young target audience would understand its "ironic" message.

 

5th July   

Agrrav8ed...

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Based on an article from the Daily Mail

More than 350 people complained to the BBC about the use of pre-watershed strong language used by Live8 performers. The BBC yesterday apologised to anyone who was offended by the bad language but blamed it on the performers and organisers. A spokesman said: We had no editorial say … However, all the artists were made aware that it was being broadcast live and were asked to be mindful of their language.

 

24th June   

Ethical Makeover...

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The BBC have published an updated "codes of ethics" for programme-makers and other content providers, ie the BBC Editorial Guidelines

Ofcom - the communications regulator which deals with all broadcasters, including the BBC - also updated its code last month. It relaxed some of the rules imposed by earlier regulators, saying that with multi-channel television now in half of UK homes, audiences must take greater responsibility for what they and their families watched and listened to.

It told broadcasters that, for their part, they must do more to label programmes and tell listeners and viewers what to expect, particularly when children are around.

Cameras showed bloodied hostages, many of them children, fleeing the school, and there was criticism that some footage had been too intrusive.

The BBC has also responded to the multimedia world in its new guidelines, which come into effect on 25 July, replacing its old Producers' Guidelines.

It is to introduce a time-delay when broadcasting live coverage of sensitive events such as the Beslan siege. All the major news outlets reported live from the scene of the hostage crisis last September, which led to the deaths of more than 300 people. Cameras showed bloodied hostages - many of them children - fleeing the school, and there was criticism that some footage had been too intrusive.

In another change reflecting the growing influence of 24-hour news, the guidelines say the BBC regards "accuracy as more important than speed". Though this is a long-established principle, it's the first time the BBC has made such an explicit commitment. It's an acknowledgment that in the race to report news ahead of their rivals, broadcasters sometimes make mistakes.

Some TV channels and websites adhere to a different principle - "never wrong for long" - reflecting the ability of 24-hour news outlets to correct mistakes quickly. The BBC is making it clear that, in its case, this is not good enough.

The guidelines also suggest that all programme contributors should be asked to sign contracts, disclosing any conflicts of interest or criminal records - to try to root out fake guests in daytime talk shows.

In investigative programmes, such as The Secret Policeman, they say the use of secret recordings must be kept under constant review - and no-one with a criminal record must be employed without the personal approval of the BBC's head of editorial policy.

The guidelines were updated last year to take account of lessons learned after the Hutton Inquiry into the Gilligan-Kelly affair, and these changes are also incorporated in the new edition.

 

22nd June   

Big Fucking Deal...

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Ofcon 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.

 

17th June   

Institutional Nutterdom...

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Based on an article from The Guardian

The Christian Institute's bid to bring judicial review proceedings against the BBC for its broadcast of Jerry Springer - the Opera has been rejected by a high court judge.

The Newcastle-based nutter group vowed to take the action after the broadcaster refused to apologise for the expletive-strewn opera. The BBC was issued with legal papers in early March. It applied for a judicial review claiming the BBC had violated its royal charter and hoped to win a hearing which would examine how BBC bosses executed their responsibilities.

But the high court has refused to grant the Christian Institute permission to bring judicial review proceedings against the BBC. The decision will come as little surprise to the TV industry which has seen several failed attempts to have decisions overturned through judicial reviews.

Jana Bennett, the BBC's director of television, said Jerry Springer - the Opera was a "difficult production" for some people, but represented a "significant landmark" in the BBC's drive to maintain freedom of speech and editorial independence.
We are pleased that Ofcom, the Governors' Programme Complaint Commission (GPCC) and now the laws of this country have recognised that the BBC has an important role to play in the freedom of artistic expression.

 

25th May   

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

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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   

Channel 4 No Idiots...

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Ofcom 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

 

22nd May   

Slagging Off those Slagging Off Pot Noodle Ads...

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Pot Noodle adverts which drew more than 600 complaints from viewers who found them sexually explicit may still be shown, the Advertising Standards Authority said.

The three TV commercials showed a man with a large brass horn and used the phrase Have you got the Pot Noodle horn?

Some viewers objected to the sexual innuendo, saying it was an "unacceptable and gratuitous" method of publicising a food product. Others complained about a shorter version of the commercial, shown before 9pm, because they found the verbal innuendo "inappropriate" for the early evening.

The two commercials shown after 9pm were "characteristically tongue in cheek" for Pot Noodle, the ASA found. Rejecting viewers objections, the ASA said: The word "horn" was used as a pun intended to refer to sexual arousal, but this was not in itself likely to cause serious or widespread offence.

The ASA found that the third commercial, shown before 9pm but not before 7.30pm, contained subtle verbal references and did not contain visual references to sexual arousal. The ASA did not uphold the 48 complaints for this advert.

 

18th May   

ASA's 50 Cent's Worth...

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Reebok's television advert featuring gangster rapper 50 Cent should be banned because of its violent content, the Advertising Standards Authority has ruled.

The TV commercial drew 57 objections, including Mothers Against Guns founder Lucy Cope, who complained it glamorised gun crime.  The advert provoked complaints those who thought it glamorised gun culture and could make violence appear acceptable. Others feared the commercials could make youngsters think 50 Cent's background was "cool".

It showed 50 Cent saying he had been "gunned down" and later counting from one to nine - the number of times he had been shot. He was later shown laughing and staring at the camera after a voice-over asked:
Who do you plan to massacre next?

The ASA upheld these complaints, saying the Reebok advert for its "I Am What I Am" campaign breached the TV Advertising Standards Code. Reebok's commercial dealt "inappropriately" with violent aspects of 50 Cent's life, the industry watchdog found. We believed it appeared to condone his violent background, the watchdog said.

Reebok UK said the commercials, created by NMI Media, had been cleared by the Broadcast Advertising Clearance Centre and were intended to be a positive and empowering celebration of the right of freedom of self-expression, individuality and authenticity .

It was pulled from screens prior to the ASA's adjudication because of complaints from the public. Reebok UK said the commercials did not suggest any good came from violence, and denied they could cause children any emotional suffering.

 

14th May   

BBC Ratings...

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The BBC is developing a PG-style classification system for its programmes in a bid to head off any attempt by Ofcom to impose its own labelling framework.  Under the scheme, programmes with strong content would carry a label – most likely to be a “G” for guidance – which would appear next to the title on any EPG.  The idea has been in development for two years and will be trialled as part of the corporation’s experiment with downloadable TV in September. 

Ofcom has a working group looking into the issue of labelling, but the BBC wants to develop a broadcaster-led scheme amid fears that an Ofcom-imposed system could prove excessive.  BBC controller of editorial policy Stephen Whittle said: We think it’s better we should keep control of how this is done, so it doesn’t become excessive.

 

10th May   

No Confessions of Blasphemy...

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Based on an article from The Guardian

Jerry Springer: the Opera provoked accusations of blasphemy and a firestorm of protest from nutters when it was broadcast earlier this year. But the television watchdog Ofcom has ruled that the programme did not breach broadcasting guidelines.

Ofcom received more than 16,000 complaints - an unprecedented number - but yesterday ruled that although the January showing clearly had the potential to offend and indeed the intention to shock, it was set in a very clear context as a comment on modern TV .

Nutters were particularly offended by the programme's portrayal of Christian figures, which included Jesus wearing a nappy. Tabloid press reports stoked the controversy, saying that the programme contained 8,000 swear words. According to the BBC, however, it only contained "around 200 f-words" and "nine c-words".

In its ruling, Ofcom said it appreciated that the representation of religious figures was offensive to some people. But it said: The show's effect was to satirise modern fame and the culture of celebrity. The images that caused the most offence were part of a 'dream' sequence serving as a metaphor for the fictional Jerry Springer and his chat show. In Ofcom's view, these were not meant to be faithful or accurate depictions of religious figures, but a product of the lead character's imagination. Even as he lay dying, the fictional Jerry Springer still saw his life through the lens of his confessional show.

Ofcom received 7,491 complaints before transmission and 8,860 afterwards, including 4,264 emails from an organisation called Premier Media Group. It also received 210 messages of support for the programme.

Complaints were investigated by Ofcom's content board - the highest level at which complaints are considered. Ofcom said the musical was preceded by a programme which aimed to put the whole show into context.

 

26th April   

Advertising Nutter Sensitivities...

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Adverts which offended Christian sensitivities accounted for three of the four most complained about ads across the broadcast and print media last year. In a year in which the number of complaints made to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) fell by almost 11%, adverts which were said to mock key aspects of the Christian faith received the highest number of complaints.

A Channel 4 advert for the Paul Abbott series Shameless , in which the Gallagher family are posed like Jesus and the apostles in Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper , received the most complaints for any non-broadcast advert.

In all, 264 people complained to the ASA about the advert, but the authority decided the complaints were unjustified because it parodied the Renaissance masterpiece rather than the Christian sacrament.
There was no such ambiguity about the second most complained about non-broadcast ad. Schering Health Care's advert for its morning after pill carried the top line Immaculate Contraception . It did not go down well with Roman Catholics, in particular, and received 182 complaints, which were upheld.

Channel 4 also produced the third most complained about non-broadcast ad: a newspaper insert advertising a documentary on the Royal Mail which workers claimed implied they were thieves. Like the advert for Shameless , however, the complaints were ruled to be unjustified.

In its annual report, published today, the ASA reveals that the total number of non-broadcast complaints fell in 2004 to 12,711, a decline of 10.9% on 2003. Despite a drop in the number of complaints, the total number of campaigns investigated by the ASA increased. The number of non-broadcast campaigns altered or withdrawn after intervention from the agency increased by 8% to 1,835.

For the first time, the ASA also investigated complaints about broadcast adverts in 2004, taking over the function previously performed by Ofcom on November 1.

The top 10 broadcast complaints list was, however, compiled by Ofcom, which received the most broadcast complaints - 1,360 - for the digital television channel Auctionworld .

Complaints about poor customer service, misleading guide prices and failure to deliver goods led to the channel being fined £450,000 and its licence was withdrawn.

Religious sensitivities were also offended by an advert for Mr Kipling's mince pies which featured a woman named Mary giving birth. Initially she appeared to be in a hospital, but it later showed her to be in a church hall in a nativity play. Ofcom agreed with 806 complainants that the advert mocked one of the Christian calendar's central events and the advertiser withdrew it.

The ASA received 2,841 complaints about taste and decency for non-broadcast advertising, down by nearly a quarter compared with 2003.

Launching the report, the ASA's chairman, Lord Borrie QC, said it had never been easier to complain: " Not only has the creation of the one-stop shop benefited the consumer by making it easier to contact a single regulator, the ASA's new role also carries extended responsibilities. "

Non-broadcast

  1. Channel 4 Shameless poster posing the Gallagher family as in Leonardo's Last Supper offended religious sensitivities. Not justified
  2. Schering Health Care Immaculate Contraception ad for the morning after pill. Upheld
  3. Channel 4 Sorted insert for programme about postal workers, provoked complaints that it portrayed them as dishonest. Not justified

Broadcast

  1. Auctionworld Licence revoked
  2. Mr Kipling's mince pies Complaints it made fun of the nativity. Upheld
  3. Virgin Mobile Man at urinal. Not upheld

 

5th April   

Reebok Rapped...

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50 Cent's controversial TV advertisement for sportswear giant Reebok has been pulled in Britain following complaints that it promotes gun culture.

The commercial, which forms part of Reebok's 'I Am What I Am' global campaign, features the Candy Shop superstar counting from one to nine - which critics claim is a direct reference to the number of times he's been shot.

The British Advertising Standards Authority has received complaints from more than 50 viewers and felt obliged to take action against the TV ad which is part of a series of Reebok commercials featuring Jay-Z, Andy RoddickK, Allen Iversen and Lucy Liu.

Reebok spokeswoman Denise Kaigler argues the 'I Am What I Am' concept is
intended to be a positive and empowering celebration of this right of freedom and self-expression, individuality and authenticity.

However, Britain's the Disarm Trust anti-gun campaign group has described the ad as irresponsible and despicable , and Chairman Bill Brown accuses Reebok of preying on young impressionable black males .

 

5th April   

Bullied by Stats...

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Four-year-old children who watch more television than average are more likely to become bullies, research suggests. The University of Washington team found children who went on to bully watched about five hours of TV per day - almost two hours more than those who did not.

The study of 1,266 four-year-olds also showed mental stimulation, such as outings, being read to and eating with parents reduced the risk of bullying.  It was published in Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

Parents who don't take a great interest in their children and what they are watching are also those parents who emotionally neglect them or physically assault them. The researchers gauged how much emotional support they received from their parents, their level of mental stimulation how much television they watched at the age of four.

Factors used to assess the emotional support a child received included if they ate meals with both parents, how much the parents talked to the child, and if it was spanked. Outings, reading, playing and parental teaching were assessed to evaluate mental stimulation. Parents were also asked how many hours of television their children watched, on average. They then looked at reports on children from the ages of six to 11 to see which children were described as bullies.

The study suggested both early emotional support and mental stimulation were likely to reduce the chances of becoming a bully. But it said the risk associated with the amount of TV children watched was "clinically significant".

Children who did not go on to be bullies watched an average of 3.2 hours of TV a day. Those who did go on to bully watched an average of five hours a day.

But UK experts cast doubt on the study's findings. Kevin Browne, professor of forensic and family psychology at the University of Birmingham, said:
We know that emotionally neglected children are more violent, so emotional neglect itself will contribute to a child becoming a bully

 

1st April   

Opera with a Happy Ending...

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Based on an article from the BBC

The BBC board of governors has rejected thousands of complaints made over the showing of Jerry Springer: The Opera . The corporation received around 55,000 complaints prior to the screening of the hit West End show, in January, and 8,000 after it had been broadcast.

But the governors' Programme Complaints committee voted by a 4-1 majority not to uphold the complaints. They said the programme's artistic significance outweighed any offence which might have been caused.

The committee said that the offence caused to sizable numbers of viewers should not be taken lightly. However, they added that attempts were made to minimise offence through appropriate scheduling, clear warnings as to the nature of the show, and other programmes which put the broadcast in context.

One governor, Angela Sarkis, disagreed with the decision not to uphold the complaints. Sarkis said she agreed on many points raised by the governors, particularly that the programme was well scheduled and signposted. But she did not agree that the artistic significance outweighed the offence caused by what would have been considered literal portrayal of holy figures by many people.

Stephen Green, National Director of the nutter group Christian Voice, told BBC News he was "very disappointed" with the governors' decision. It's a complete abrogation of their responsibility in my view, he said. It's just too easy to get offended - what offends me the most is censorship.

Earlier this month another nutter group, the Christian Institute applied for a judicial review of the broadcast. The group said the programme breached the BBC's charter and broke the Human Rights Act by discriminating against Christians.

A spokesman for the Church of England said they were disappointed by the outcome. This was a programme that gave rise to unprecedented levels of public concern and, as the governors concede, caused significant offence to large numbers of people.

However, the National Secular Society welcomed the decision. The BBC decided to show Jerry Springer: The Opera not because it wanted to offend people but because it adjudged it to have artistic merit, said vice-president Terry Sanderson.

 

 

8th March   

Idiots and Nutters...

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Congratulations to C4 for showing The Idiots uncut last night.

It is probably the first time that snippets of explicit real sex have been shown on UK broadcast TV. Especially good news as it was in an entertainment film as opposed to a educational programme.

Interesting interpretation by Payback saying he got the impression that ch4 were implanting an engineered acceptance of r18 ready for the new code. on several occasions they stated that the 'complainers' had lost the battle to keep explicit sex of the telly.

Good to see John Beyer of Mediawatch-UK wallowing in 'filth'. As noted by Dano: Beyer obviously doesn't check the content of programmes before he agrees to appear on them, but he should be aware of how much of an idiot he looks moaning about sex, violence and swearing on TV when he's in a show surrounded by clips of so called "filth".

 

8th March   

Eight Complaints, The People have Spoken...

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Well, hooray for the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). This week the watchdog decided that a TV advert that encouraged young people to rampage through city centres committing random acts of violence could not be shown before the 9pm watershed. In fact the adverts that have so upset the ASA are for Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas - easily the most violent computer game since Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. Apparently the ads included general scenes of violence and the use of guns as well as a threatening atmosphere and as such have attracted a staggering eight complaints.

Eight! The people have spoken!

Of course, it is easy to find fault with the ASA's decision. The idea that in this war-soaked age children can be shielded from "scenes of violence" on television is ludicrous - heaven forbid any of them should stumble across the lunchtime news. But there's an even greater problem with trying to stop kids seeing violent ads during the day: it's called the internet.

A casual surf reveals that there is barely a teen community site that has not reviewed GTA: San Andreas , and barely a teen chatroom in which it has not been discussed or promoted by visitors. You want violent images? Check out the screenshots that accompany the reviews. A threatening atmosphere? Ooh, here are some downloadable trailers from the official GTA site.

The web is laughing in the face of the watershed and what is the ASA doing about it? Sitting at home fretting about a medium that young people are abandoning in their droves.

Whether we like it or not, the web is a truly global medium and, as such, censorship on a national level is unrealistic. Yes, content that is illegal can just about be controlled thanks to collaboration between police forces in different countries - but content that is just in poor taste or likely to upset young children? Forget it.

At least official trailers and semi-official review sites tend to exercise a degree of self-censorship to ensure that they do not contain extremely graphic content. But thanks to the plummeting price of digital video equipment we are seeing a growing trend of horrifically tasteless spoof ads appearing on the web.

Earlier this year two "renegade" (read: desperate) filmmakers called Lee and Dan posted a spoof ad on their website featuring a suicide bomber driving a Volkswagen Polo. The payoff was that the bomb exploded, killing the driver but failing to make a dent in the car - the tagline: "Polo: Small but tough." Naturally the clip went ultra-viral and was posted on forums and blogs across the web with nothing to stop children seeing it. In fact it was the children themselves that were responsible for much of the forwarding.

Fast-forward to five years from now. The ASA continues to ban violent pre-watershed TV ads. Children continue to hear about the bans and head straight for Google to track down the offending adverts - along with all the far more graphic ads that only the internet can provide. Advertisers realise that there is no point in advertising controversial products on TV any more and simply transfer the budget to producing online trailers, which are promoted on websites rather than broadcast on TV. Television becomes a lovely fluffy world of child-friendly advertising while the internet continues its descent into commercially funded depravity.

This dystopian future is great news for internet publishers - God knows we'll take advertising dollars from anyone - but it's a truly terrifying prospect for anyone concerned with the welfare of children.

Perhaps it is time for the ASA (and by extension the government) to stop worrying about a violent TV ad that attracts eight complaints and start worrying about how they can police online advertising. And then perhaps it is time for them to realise that they cannot do anything of the sort. The best they can hope to do is to educate parents about the type of advertising that can be found on the web and to make them realise that the only sure way to prevent their children from accessing it is to take away their PCs and to encourage them to do something more constructive instead. Watching TV, perhaps. Or playing
Grand Theft Auto.

 

8th March   

Freedom for the Critically Acclaimed...

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Melon Farmers logoThe Director-General of the BBC accused the nutter groups who opposed the January broadcast of Jerry Springer — The Opera of extremism and said that they were a threat to freedom of speech.
Mark Thompson, who spoke at The Stationer’s Livery Lecture, sponsored by The Times, said that airing Jerry Springer , which depicts a Jesus-character who sings that he “feels a little bit gay”, was “right and important”.

He gave warning that the openness (of the BBC), along with the wider openness of our whole society, is under threat , as he joined battle with his critics, arguing that the voices of those who would wish to limit (freedom of speech) seem to be getting more strident.

Christian Voice, previously a little-known organisation, published a list of home addresses and phone numbers of senior BBC executives, some of whom received threatening phone calls. Small pressure groups can use the internet, e-mails and other modern communications tools to give a false impression of size and weight, Thompson said, adding that he expected the BBC “to be tested again” in similar rows which the broadcaster would have to resist with “ courtesy and sensitivity” as well as “conviction and muscularity”.

Thompson, who is a practising Christian, conceded that BBC has plenty more to do to reflect religion positively , and said that there was more we could do to connect the broadcaster to the 70 per cent of the population who describe themselves as Christian.

He contrasted Jerry Springer — The Opera with Popetown , an animated comedy featuring a depiction of the Pope that the BBC canned in the autumn before airing, after spending £2 million developing it. Thompson said: “ Unlike Springer, Popetown was not an established critical triumph.

 

6th March   

Banned Season...

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X-Rated: The TV They Tried To Ban is tonight (Channel 4, 10pm); Banned In The UK starts tomorrow (Channel 4, 11pm); X-Rated: The Ads They Couldn’t Show screens on March 10 (Channel 4, 10pm); a season of banned films starts tonight with The Evil Dead (Channel 4, 11.35pm) and continues until March 17

Based on an article from the Sunday Herald


Censorship ain’t what it used to be. At least that’s the message in Channel 4’s Banned Season , a series of programmes beginning tonight with X-Rated: The TV They Tried To Ban and continuing tomorrow with Banned In The UK , a four-part survey of censorship over the past 20 years. Despite its serious intent, there’s little in the Banned Season that’s treated with anything other than fond nostalgia or downright disbelief. We are shocked to be reminded that once, Gerry Adams’s voice couldn’t be heard on British television, and Mary Whitehouse’s court case against the National Theatre over Howard Brenton’s 1980 play Romans In Britain now seems farcical.

In tandem with the documentaries, Channel 4 and FilmFour will screen films which sparked tabloid outrage, including usual suspects The Evil Dead , The Texas Chainsaw Massacre , A Clockwork Orange and The Last Temptation Of Christ. There are also some surprise choices: Michael Powell’s 1960 British classic Peeping Tom , for instance, and Ken Russell’s Crimes Of Passion , in which Kathleen Turner plays an architect who moonlights as a prostitute. Yes it’s bad, but for all the wrong reasons.

In their time many of these films were the subject of bans or attempted bans; today most are available in DVD stores. The scenes of sex and violence that once had middle England banging the table in moral outrage hardly raise a whimper now. Instead viewers of the Banned Season will find themselves laughing at how small-minded and prudish we used to be and telling themselves that that sort of thing couldn’t happen today.

But as every screen taboo is broken, another one takes its place. Cast your eye over the 2005 battlefield – Reithian libertarians on the left, conservative viewers’ groups on the right – and you’ll see there isn’t a white flag in sight. Freedom of speech is still being fought over. Worries about censorship are as valid today as when Mrs Thatcher said we don’t believe in constraining the media, still less in censorship – then unleashed 1984’s draconian Video Recordings Act. “Video nasties” may be a phrase from history but just last month in America a $600 million law suit was filed against the makers and distributors of the Grand Theft Auto computer game, ahead of the trial of an 18-year-old accused of killing three Alabama police officers.

The battlelines over taste and decency are still drawn, they’ve just shifted a little. Paedophilia, euthanasia, guns, violence against women, racist language, even smoking – these are all issues which now set alarm bells ringing. But programme makers desperate for ratings are not averse to shocking people if they think they can get away with it.

The biggest contemporary issue is religion. Consider the recent rumpus over BBC2’s screening of Jerry Springer: The Opera (49,000 complaints, largely organised by pressure group Christian Voice); or Behzti , the play written by a young Sikh woman which was closed down by the Birmingham Repertory Theatre after violent protest from members of the Sikh community.

According to Ursula Owen, editor-in-chief of free expression publication Index On Censorship , religion’s “last taboo” status is down to fundamentalist groups who claim that their belief system affords them the right to not be offended. What seems to be happening is that we have a multi-cultural society where people have different attitudes to comments about religion and we’re all treading on eggshells. Owen draws a distinction between race and belief. You have to be able to offend people for what they believe. You should not offend them for who they are.

John Beyer – director of MediaWatch doesn’t buy any of these arguments. Nor does he agree that we’re no longer bothered by sex and violence on television. People are concerned about bad language, sexual conduct and violence. Many of them feel frustrated that there’s nothing they can do about whatever anybody wants to transmit on television. They feel nobody is listening to them or taking their concerns into account. Beyer believes it’s his duty to orchestrate campaigns against anything that falls foul of his moral yardstick.

Syeda Irtizaali is the producer of X-Rated: The TV They Tried To Ban . Beyer and his ilk are the “They” of her programme’s title and she characterises them as complainers … people who are terrified of the world we live in today and who hanker back to a golden past which doesn’t exist and never did .

But is there anything television really wouldn’t show? I’d hope we wouldn’t see death, murder or execution, says Irtizaali. And I hope paedophilia never sees a sympathetic airing on television – although Kevin Bacon’s film [The Woodsman] does take a sympathetic look at a paedophile.

And of course we’ve seen torture now too. Last week, Channel 4’s Guantanamo Way replicated conditions at the infamous detention camp using volunteers: one lasted only eight hours before doctors pulled him out. A serious attempt to make a political point … or another example of television pushing boundaries in a quest for ratings? Irtizaali said: The moment you say ‘censorship’ my hackles rise. The idea that I’m not allowed to watch something makes me really angry. However, I think there has to be a moral line somewhere.

But where that line goes – and, more importantly, who gets to draw it – is a question it seems impossible to answer

 

5th March   

Wash their Mouths out with Soap...

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Perhaps Ofcom can refuse to handle the complaint as nutters would prefer that adult issues are not to be discussed during working hours.
 

Based on an article from the BBC

The BBC has received around 200 complaints after a documentary about pornography was shown at 9.15am. Britain's Streets of Vice , presented by Sally Magnusson, featured interviews with several people who make a living from the UK's porn industry.

Media regulator Ofcom said it was looking into the matter after receiving 34 complaints.

I firmly believe it is in the public interest to address these issues, said BBC daytime controller Alison Sharman. This is the first time there has been such a powerful and challenging documentary series shown on daytime television Challenging the perceptions of daytime television has been one of my most important focuses since taking on the role of controller of BBC Daytime in January 2002. The films have been carefully edited and transmitted to ensure they are appropriate to be transmitted during the day."

John Beyer, director of the nutter group Mediwatch-UK, said they had also received a number of complaints. People are very angry that they and their children were confronted with pornography on BBC One at 9.15 in the morning .

A spokeswoman for the BBC said, This sensitive subject was approached in a suitable way for an adult audience. The drugs and sex industries are a legitimate area of public concern and are topics which have frequently been covered in daytime talk shows. We have worked closely with the relevant agencies and in conjunction with experts in the field, as well as with the full co-operation of BBC Compliance and Editorial Policy departments."

The spokeswoman added that the programme had been deliberately scheduled during term time and the nature of the content had been clearly stated beforehand. The four-part series also featured programmes on prostitution and heroin addiction

 

27th February   

Guantanamo Guidebook...

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The United States of Torturers have certainly got a lot to answer for.

From The Independent

A "reality" TV show by Channel 4 where seven volunteers are subjected to Guantanamo Bay-type torture has been condemned as "grossly distasteful" and "offensive".

The programme, Guantanamo Guidebook, was filmed in an east London warehouse and shows the men being assaulted, stripped naked, verbally abused, sexually humiliated and exposed to sensory deprivation by a team of former US military interrogators.

Several of the men, who include a martial arts champion, "Britain's fittest fireman" and a tri-athlete, became ill during the 48 hours of ill-treatment - called "torture-lite" by the US authorities. One man fell ill with hypothermia, another wet himself, and others suffered cramps, hallucinations and vomiting.

Channel 4 is screening the show late tomorrow night as part of a series investigating the Pentagon's illegal use of torture in the "war on terror", but has been accused of glamorising the abuses suffered by torture victims.

Dr Nimisha Patel, chief psychologist for the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, which treats torture survivors, claimed the programme risked being seen by some viewers as "sadistic voyeurism". He said: Torture is torture, and as such is always inhumane and unjustifiable. The packaging of it as entertainment by Channel 4 is not only grossly distasteful but potentially offensive to many, including survivors of torture and their families. Where should we draw the line? What would we say if there was a similar recreation of experiences in a Nazi concentration camp?"

Frank Ledwidge, the senior human rights lawyer for the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the official Vienna-based arms control and security agency, said: There is no such thing as 'torture-lite' any more than there is 'rape-lite'.

Their criticisms follow complaints earlier this month from the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims in Denmark, which called on Channel 4 to drop the programme because it had broken the "absolute prohibition" against torture.

But Dorothy Byrne, Channel 4's head of news and current affairs, insisted all volunteers had been screened by doctors and psychologists and carefully chosen from 150 potential participants. They were briefed on what to expect and filming was overseen by a doctor. She said Channel 4 was determined to educate viewers on the use of illegal torture by the US and British complicity in that torture.

 

20th January   

Porky Prime Minister...

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Melon Farmers logoA TV advert in which the comedian Harry Enfield ridicules Winston Churchill, calling him a “porky prime minister”, has been banned by the Broadcasting Advertising Clearance Centre (BACC) .

The 30-second film accusing Churchill of downloading “saucy pics” of General Montgomery, the second world war commander, from the internet has been deemed extremely offensive to the public and the surviving family of the wartime leader.

In the advert Enfield reprises his role as loud-mouthed Frank Doberman, made famous in his series Harry Enfield and Friends, and reproaches Churchill for using an old internet dial-up service.

Approaching Churchill, played by a lookalike, he yells: Oi, Churchill. Well done for winning world war two. Nice one. But if you was downloading saucy pics of Monty up at El Alamein using a dial-up connection, I should say, ‘Oi, Churchill, no!’ You should be Madasafish, you porky prime minister! But the BACC has banned the advert, which is one of a series of three in which Doberman gives his pearls of wisdom to leading historical figures.

The other adverts featuring the explorer Captain Cook and the scientist Albert Einstein have been allowed.

David Laurie, chief executive of Madasafish, defended the advert, saying he was astounded it was not suitable for transmission.

Enfield said the ban was “nanny-state rubbish”. The premise of the advert is so ridiculous I really do not see how it can be offensive.”

A second advert, informing people of the ban and directing them to see the original on the company’s website, has also been outlawed.

A release on the site says:
Frank quietly explains to Winston that he ought to consider switching from his dial-up connection to Madasafish broadband. How can that cause offence?

You can view the advert for yourselves on www.madasafish.com/tv-campaign.asp