Going to the Dogs was an observational documentary about dog fighting broadcast on Channel 4. Ofcom received 1,736 complaints in relation to the programme. They covered a range of issues but focused broadly on offence or concern caused by:
scenes of dog fighting and other cruelty to animals (the programme also included footage of battery farming, horses being killed and pheasant shooting);
contributors who were involved in dog fighting having their identities protected and not being reported to the police; and
the possibility that contributors involved in dog fighting had been paid for their participation in the programme.
A number of complainants also considered that the programme glamorised dog fighting.
Ofcom assessed the programme, which was of 75 minutes duration. It was a documentary featuring individuals involved with dog fighting in the UK, and discussing the moral and legal issues surrounding various activities that involve animals (such as
battery farming, hunting and horse racing). In particular, the programme included three pieces of footage of dog fights that the programme makers had filmed. Each was recorded in what appeared to be a disused building, and the footage clearly
demonstrated both the violence of the dog fights and the injuries caused to the animals involved. In addition, the programme also included clips from a video of a particularly bloody dog fight that had taken place in what was purported to be Kashmir.
Ofcom considered rules of the Code:
Rule 2.3: In applying generally accepted standards broadcasters must ensure that material which may cause offence is justified by the context. Such material may include, but is not limited to, offensive language, violence, sex, sexual violence,
humiliation, distress, violation of human dignity, discriminatory treatment or language (for example on the grounds of age, disability, gender, race, religion, beliefs and sexual orientation). Appropriate information should also be broadcast where it
would assist in avoiding or minimising offence.
Rule 2.4: Programmes must not include material (whether in individual programmes, or in programmes taken together) which, taking into account the context, condones or glamorises violent, dangerous or seriously antisocial behaviour and is likely to
encourage others to copy such behaviour.
Rule 3.3: No payment, promise of payment, or payment in kind, may be made to convicted or confessed criminals whether directly or indirectly for a programme contribution by the criminal (or any other person) relating to his/her crime/s. The only
exception is where it is in the public interest.
Ofcom Decision: Complaints not upheld
while the footage of animal suffering included in the programme was shocking and distressing to some viewers, Ofcom considered that it would not have exceeded the expectations of the majority of the audience for this Channel 4 documentary.
Ofcom also assessed complaints that viewers were offended that contributors featured in the programme who were involved in dog fighting had their identities protected and were not reported to the police.
We noted Channel 4's comments that it is not its policy to hand over untransmitted rushes of programmes to the authorities. The Licensee also told Ofcom that it was a condition of the access secured by the production team that those involved in dog
fighting would not have their identities disclosed.
Ofcom recognised that the protection from identification provided to the contributors involved in dog fighting may have been offensive to some viewers. However, in accordance with the right to freedom of expression, there are some circumstances in which
journalists need to protect their sources to investigate and report on criminal activity. Importantly in this case, Ofcom also noted that the programme makers acted and filmed in an observational manner: at no point did it appear that any criminal
activity had taken place for the specific purposes of the programme or as a direct result of the programme makers' presence. Taking all of the above into account, Ofcom concluded that Channel 4 applied generally accepted standards and there was no breach
of Rule 2.3.
Rule 2.4 requires that programmes must not include material that condones of glamorises violent or dangerous behaviour and is likely to encourage others to copy such behaviour.
Ofcom noted that those individuals involved in dog fighting were given the opportunity to explain their reasons for being involved in the activity. However, as described in the Introduction, the sustained sequences of dog fighting included in the
programme were unflinching and clearly demonstrated the grim reality of the practice. This was reflected in the descriptions used by complainants to Ofcom who described the footage variably as: distressing ; horrendous ; and, sickening
We also noted that the programme included numerous references to the criminal nature of dog fighting. Ofcom therefore considered that the programme did not present a glamorised depiction of dog fighting and was unlikely to encourage others to copy the
behaviour shown. The programme was therefore not in breach of Rule 2.4.
Rule 3.3 requires that payment may not be made to a convicted or confessed criminal for a contribution to a programme relating to their crimes unless it is in the public interest. Ofcom received confirmation from the programme makers, through Channel 4,
that none of the contributors featured in the programme involved in dog fighting was paid for their contribution. We were therefore satisfied that Rule 3.3 was not breached.
The BBC cut a lesbian kiss scene from Doctor Who to avoid offending audiences (and TV censors) when it was screened in Asia.
The feature-length edition was broadcast to viewers in Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore last Monday. BBC insiders say the scene, which lasted just a couple of seconds, was cut to avoid falling foul of a
broadcasting code in Singapore which says programmes should avoid any content that could justify homosexual and lesbian lifestyles.
George Dixon, BBC Worldwide's global editorial director, said:
When preparing shows for international transmission, we occasionally have to make edits to ensure we're not breaking any local broadcasting rules.
Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell was not impressed. He said:
The BBC should not bow to censorship demands from other countries. If these countries are bigoted and are not willing to show same-sex love, they have no right to demand that the BBC conforms to their standards of prejudice.
Frankie and Friends was a British porn website offering both photo sets and videos to paying members.
ATVOD had targeted the site with view to making it pay expensive fees and to subject it to onerous and impractical age verification requirements.
In May 2013 ATVOD had informed the website it that it must sign up for Video on Demand censorship. But Frankie and Friends appealed the decision to the senior TV and internet censor, Ofcom. (Hardly seems much of an independent appeal process to appeal to
the same censor that is in ultimate charge and who delegated the task to a junior censor).
Frankie and Friends based the appeal on the videos being shorter than typical TV programmes and pointing out that there were more photograph galleries than video galleries. [The Law requires that a website should have a primary purpose of being Video on
Demand before being subjected to ATVOD censorship].
Ofcom have dismissed the relevance of short form videos several times now, noting that for instance, Television X, broadcasts plenty of short videos on a UK licensed linear TV service.
Ofcom dismissed the argument about photographs being the primary purpose:
Ofcom's overall view was that characteristics of the material available on the Appellant's website and the manner in which it was provided support the finding ATVOD made, that the site constituted a service a principal purpose of which was providing
audiovisual material. Whilst the large volume of non-TV like material available demonstrated that the Service sought to make use of still images as well as video in providing its service, Ofcom nevertheless considered that the catalogue of a significant
amount of audiovisual material available which did not require accompanying information to be fully appreciated did amount to a service the principal purpose of which was to provide an ODPS. The strong thematic connection between the two bodies of
content on the site supports the conclusion that the website as a whole had a principal purpose of providing an ODPS in relation to adult content.
So Ofcom ruled that Frankie and Friends was in fact subject to ATVOD censorship.
And as ATVOD's onerous and impractical rules make it almost impossible to continue in business, the website is now closed.
Ofcom has announced the appointment of a non-executive member of the Content Board.
Mary Ann Sieghart will join as a member of Ofcom's Content Board from 1 September 2014. She is a journalist and broadcaster. She has held the position of Assistant Editor of The Times and worked for other media outlets including the Independent,
Economist and Financial Times. She is a non-executive director of Henderson Smaller Companies Investment Trust and DLN Digital. She is also the Chair of the Social Market Foundation and sits on the Council of Tate Modern.
The Simpsons is an irreverent animated comedy produced in the USA, with an appeal to a mixed audience of children and adults, and broadcast by Channel 4 at 18:00 on weekdays.
Seven complainants alerted Ofcom to the broadcast of the word bastard , which they considered inappropriate at this time of day and in a programme which appeals to children.
Ofcom viewed a recording and noted the following comment by the character Krusty the Clown around 18:23:
...who needs friends? The incessant beep of the global positioning system is all the companionship I need... [Krusty receives an electric shock as he pats the box, and, in anger, throws it out of his boat] Tell me where you are now, you bastard!
Ofcom considered Rule 1.16 of the Code, which states:
Offensive language must not be broadcast before the watershed...unless it is justified by the context.
Channel 4 said that Ofcom will appreciate that the word 'bastard' is not the strongest language but nonetheless it considered: it was inappropriate for inclusion in an episode of The Simpsons at 18:00 in this context . It apologised for any
offence that may have been caused and said it gave careful consideration to scheduling programmes at times when children were expected to be viewing to protect children from unsuitable content.
Ofcom Decision: resolved
Ofcom research on offensive language indicates that the word bastard is thought to be a stronger swear word and that, while some people consider there are some contexts in which this word is acceptable on television pre-watershed, care
needs to be taken over its use.
Ofcom did not consider the use of bastard at 18:00 in this context in a programme like The Simpsons, with a clear appeal to children2, and broadcast on a public service channel with a broad audience, was justified by the context or in line with
However Ofcom has taken into account that: this failure was the result of an apparently isolated and unusual set of circumstances; Channel 4 proactively and quickly took steps to identify the cause of the issue and avoid the risk of a recurrence; and,
Channel 4 apologised for any offence caused.
In light of these factors, Ofcom considers the matter resolved.
Top Gear Burma Special
BBC 2, 16 March 2014, 20:00
Top Gear is a long-running magazine series on motoring. Presenters Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond provide information and commentary about cars. Programmes are light-hearted in tone, and typically include quirky and humorous banter
between the presenters.
This particular episode was the second part of a two-part special, filmed in Burma, where the Top Gear presenters crossed the country in trucks and built a makeshift bridge over the River Kwai in Thailand. On observing the completed bridge, on which an
Asian man is seen walking towards them, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond engaged in the following conversation:
Jeremy Clarkson: That is a proud moment..but...there is a slope on it.
Richard Hammond: You are right...[pointing]...it is definitely higher on that side.
Jeremy Clarkson then narrates, over images of the bridge: we decide to ignore the slope and move onto the opening ceremony.
Ofcom received two complaints from viewers who expressed concern that the word slope referred to the Asian man crossing the bridge and was an offensive racist term.
Ofcom noted that the word slope is an offensive and pejorative term for a person of East Asian descent, which originated during the Vietnam War. [presumably alluding to slant eyes]
Ofcom considered Rule 2.3:
In applying generally accepted standards broadcasters must ensure that material which may cause offence is justified by the context...Such material may include but is not limited to...discriminatory treatment or language (for example on the grounds
The BBC stated that the programme:
Used the word in what the programme-makers believed was an inoffensive, humorous play on words, addressed at the build quality of a bridge which the team had constructed and a local Asian man who was crossing it.
The BBC added that although the programme-makers:
Knew that the word could be used to refer to people of Asian origin they believed that such use was mere slang. The programme-makers were not aware at the time that it had the potential to cause offence particularly in some countries outside the UK
And had they been aware of this, the word would not have been used in this context. The BBC stated that it had already issued a public statement apologising for the use of the word and for any offence which its use caused.
Ofcom Decision: Breach of Rule 2.3
Ofcom acknowledges that slope is a term of offence more widely used in America and Australia. However it is also capable of causing offence in the UK particularly to people of Asian origin. Further, Ofcom research has indicated that viewers are
likely to consider a word to be more offensive if they understand it to be making a derogatory reference to specific characteristics of a defined ethnic group.
Ofcom therefore considered whether the broadcast of this offensive word was justified by the context. Top Gear is widely known for its irreverent style and sometimes outspoken humour, as well as the banter between the three presenters. We also noted that
regular viewers of Top Gear were likely to be aware that the programme had previously used national stereotypes as a comedic trope, particularly to describe the characteristics of cars. Various nationalities have, at some point, been the subject of the
presenters' mockery during the history of this long running programme. The regular audience for this programme adjusts its expectations accordingly.
In our view, however, in this case Jeremy Clarkson deliberately employed the offensive word to refer to the Asian person crossing the bridge as well as the camber of the bridge. Ofcom noted that this sequence was scripted in advance, and that clear
consideration was given at the time of production to using the term slope to formulate what the production team intended to be humorous word play around it. There was clearly an opportunity both during filming and post-production to research the
word and reach a more considered view on whether it was mere slang and had the potential to cause offence to viewers.
We took into account that the BBC said the programme makers intended the use of slope to be an inoffensive, humorous play on words , but that the broadcaster accepted now that the word was capable of causing offence in the UK and
apologised. We noted that the BBC provided no other arguments to justify the potential offence in the context.
Ofcom concluded, however, that in the circumstances of this particular case there was insufficient context to justify the broadcast of this material. The BBC did not apply generally accepted standards so as to provide adequate protection for members of
the public from offensive material. As a result there was a breach of Rule 2.3.
Investigation Discovery, 16, 18 & 20 August 2013 at various times during the day
Deadly Women is a true-life crime series about female killers. Each episode, which had a scheduled duration of 60 minutes, relayed the crimes of three different murderers through dramatic reconstructions of specific crimes and interviews with
experts in criminal behaviour, including forensic pathologists. It is TV-14 rated for US TV.
A complainant alerted Ofcom to graphic depictions of violence contained within an episode broadcast at 09:00 on 20 August 2013. Ofcom assessed this episode, along with another seven episodes shown between 06:00 and 17:00 on 16 and 18 August 2013.
We noted that each episode was preceded by variations of the following warnings:
The following programme contains scenes of a violent nature which some viewers may find disturbing ; or
The following programme contains scenes of murder or violent crimes that have been re-enacted.
We had concerns about a large number of the dramatic reconstructions included within the series.
Ofcom considered rules:
Rule 1.3: Children must...be protected by appropriate scheduling from material that is unsuitable for them .
Rule 1.11: Violence, its after-effects and descriptions of violence, whether verbal or physical, must be appropriately limited in programmes broadcast before the watershed (in the case of television)...and must also be justified by the
Rule 2.3: In applying generally accepted standards broadcasters must ensure that material which may cause offence is justified by the context... .
Discovery apologised for the broadcast of this content. The Licensee stated that: We accept that some of the content in these episodes was beyond the expectations of a daytime audience, even on a specialised crime channel such as [Investigation
Discovery]. The Licensee also said that upon being alerted to the original complaint in this case, the content was reviewed and then immediately taken out of the daytime schedule.
It said that all the programmes in this case had been from series six of Deadly Women and none of these programmes were intended for transmission in daytime . While all the other series of Deadly Women had been correctly certified as
post watershed , Discovery said that this had not happened in the case of series six. The Licensee stated that this deeply unfortunate incident had occurred as a result of an error of judgement by a less experienced member of the
re-versioning team during the certification process for series 6 [which] meant that it was accidentally certified as suitable for audiences with a low child index .
Initial Ofcom Decision: Breach of rules 1.3, 1.11 and 2.3
Ofcom considered that these programmes were unsuitable for children, and that a number of the episodes would have been likely to have greatly troubled younger viewers in particular.
Ofcom reminds all broadcasters to ensure they are adequately resourced to ensure all their programming complies with the Code. Further they must have sufficient resources and appropriate arrangements in place to monitor as necessary output as it
is broadcast to ensure that if, as here, a compliance mistake is made the licensee has a reasonable opportunity to spot the error and correct it before broadcast. In this case, the Licensee was seemingly unaware that it had broadcast wholly
unsuitable material before the watershed until it was alerted by Ofcom.
We considered that the repeated broadcast during the daytime of very violent material in the form of prolonged and disturbing dramatic reconstructions of torture, mutilation and murder resulted in serious contraventions of the Code. Ofcom
therefore put the Licensee on notice that it would consider these breaches of the Code for the imposition of a statutory sanction.
The Sanction Decision
First, Ofcom found the breaches of the Code by the Broadcasts were serious principally because of the graphic and extended depictions of extreme violence which they contained and which were transmitted at various times before the watershed in the
school holidays. The Broadcasts were unsuitable for children and highly likely to have caused distress to any children in the audience.
Second, the breaches were repeated in that this unsuitable content was spread across 8 episodes of the series Deadly Women, shown on 16, 18 and 20 August 2013. 12.
Last, the pre-watershed broadcasts were made in error and, by the Licensee's own admission, in an entirely inappropriate time-slot . The errors were blatant and repeated over a period of 5 days. Ofcom considered that the breaches in this
case demonstrated that the Licensee failed to ensure that it had robust compliance procedures in place.
In arriving at its Decision of the appropriate type and level of sanction, Ofcom also took account of the Licensee's recent compliance record. Prior to the Broadcasts, the Licensee did not have a history of contraventions on the Investigation
Discovery service. However, it operates a centralised compliance unit for all 73 of its licensed broadcasting services. Ofcom has found the Licensee in breach of the Code in relation to broadcasts on other licensed services, most recently, in
relation to the programme Embarrassing Bodies (TLC Poland6, 25 July 2013, 14:00). This was found in breach of Rule 1.3 as the programme, which contained full screen images of an invasive vaginal examination, was unsuitable for children and
had not been appropriately scheduled.
Ofcom's Decision is that the appropriate sanction should be a financial penalty of £100,000. Ofcom also considers that the Licensee should be directed to broadcast a statement of Ofcom's findings, on a date and in a form to be determined by
Ofcom has published research on consumer attitudes and trends in violence shown on UK TV programmes.
The research supports Ofcom in its role in protecting TV viewers, especially children. It looks at how violence on TV has changed since Ofcom issued guidelines to broadcasters in 2011 to avoid programmes being shown before 9pm that might be
unsuitable for children.
The research comprises two separate reports. The first study focused on public attitudes towards violence on TV among people from a range of ages and socio-economic groups.
The second was an analysis of four popular UK soap operas, which looked at instances of violence, or threats of violence, and people's views on them. Research findings
The first report, on the views of audiences, found that different demographic groups showed subtle differences in their views about violent content. However, all agreed that children should not be exposed to any sexual violence on TV before and
straight after the watershed.
People considered the time of broadcast to be the single most important factor in determining the acceptability of violent content on TV. Viewers were prepared to tolerate moderately violent scenes before the watershed; however, all agreed that
strong scenes with a vulnerable victim were unacceptable before 9pm.
The research also found that viewers have a sophisticated ability to analyse contextual factors when assessing whether violent scenes were acceptable. Many people said they watched violent content for a number of reasons. Some said it made genres,
such as action or drama, seem realistic and provided tension, therefore contributing to their TV viewing experience.
The study of soap operas not only looked at violent scenes, but also measured those with menacing or threatening behaviour, and violence that was implied off-screen.
It found that violence in soaps was usually clearly indicated in advance, so viewers were unlikely to be surprised when it took place. The research showed 79% of violent scenes were judged credible and rarely surprised viewers.
Broadcasters have also used violence in soap operas to help raise awareness and generate public debate around social issues such as domestic abuse.
Instances of strong scenes, portraying violence that might make the viewer uncomfortable, were very infrequent, at 6% overall. Depictions of terror during violent scenes, such as the imbalance of power in a fight, near fatal violence and
post-traumatic stress flashbacks, varied between 3% and 5% in the soaps covered.
The report also found that the amount of violence, or threats of violence, has varied over the years. EastEnders has shown a decline from 6.1 violent scenes per hour in 2001/2002 to 2.1 in 2013.
The level of violence in Coronation Street has remained fairly steady, at around three scenes per hour over the same period. There was an increase in Emmerdale, from 2.5 to over 4 scenes per hour, while Hollyoaks has also shown a rise, from 2.1
scenes per hour between 2001 and 2002 to 11.5 scenes per hour in 2013.
Daily Politics is a live political discussion programme that broadcasts on weekdays at lunchtime.
Two of the guests featured in the episode shown on 22 May 2014 were Conservative MP Nick Herbert, the former Minister of State for Police and Criminal Justice, and Peter Kirkham, a former Detective Chief Inspector. During a discussion about the
tense relations between some in the police force and the Government, Mr Herbert said:
I'm afraid there have been a minority who have been outspoken and they are very active on Twitter and so on. Peter [Kirkham] himself, just a day ago, described the Home Secretary as 'a fuckwit' on his own Twitter line .
Ofcom noted that the presenter, Jo Coburn, immediately said to Mr Herbert:
we won't have any more of that .
In addition, Ms Coburn apologised at the end of the programme by saying:
I have to apologise for the earlier expletive used and expressed by the former Policing Minister Nick Herbert. Unacceptable, won't be repeated .
Ofcom received five complaints from viewers who objected to Mr Herbert's use of the word fuckwit and considered it unsuitable given that the programme was broadcast during the day.
Ofcom considered Rule 1.14:
The most offensive language must not be broadcast before the watershed
The BBC told Ofcom that no briefing of Mr Herbert had taken place before the broadcast. It said it is not usual practice to give such briefings to MPs and former Government ministers as it is reasonably assumed that figures in political life
are aware of the need to avoid using offensive language .
Ofcom Decision: Resolved
While this was clearly a case of the most offensive language being broadcast before the watershed, Ofcom recognised that the programme was broadcast live and Mr Herbert used the word when directly quoting the online comment of another guest to
illustrate the tense relations between some in the police force and the Government. Ofcom also recognised that the likelihood of a significant number of children watching was very small, given that Daily Politics is a programme of limited appeal
to younger viewers and this episode was shown at lunchtime during school term time. These factors reduced the potential for offence caused by the use of fuckwit .
Further, Ofcom noted that the programme's presenter, Jo Coburn, made it immediately clear to Mr Herbert that the use of offensive language should not be repeated, before apologising to viewers at the end of the programme.
Given the above, Ofcom considers the matter resolved.
Ofcom reminds all broadcasters that they should consider carefully their processes for briefing guests appearing on live programmes.
The watershed is 50 years old this month. In July 1964, Parliament passed the law that led to measures to protect children from seeing harmful or offensive material on TV in the evenings.
Fifty years on, new Ofcom research shows that most adult TV viewers are aware of the 9pm watershed as a valued way of indicating what is suitable for young viewers.
Ofcom's research shows that 98% of adults in the UK watch TV. Among TV viewers, 94% are aware that the watershed requires broadcasters only to show programmes unsuitable for children after a certain time (compared to 91% in 2008).
Today, more TV viewers believe the watershed is at about the right time (78% in 2013 compared to 70% in 2008), Ofcom's report on UK audience attitudes to broadcast media shows.
In the past five years, there have been falls in the number of viewers saying there is too much violence (35% of adult viewers in 2013, down from 55% in 2008), sex (26% in 2013 versus 35% in 2008) and swearing (35% in 2013 versus 53% in
2008) on TV.
One reason for this is a change in attitude among older viewers. The number of viewers over 65 who believe there is too much swearing (78% in 2008 compared to 55% in 2013) and violence (75% in 2008 compared to 52% in 2013) has fallen over the past
Among those adults who had been offended by something on TV in the last 12 months (18% of adult viewers), nearly four times more people are likely to continue watching the programme than in 2008 (5% in 2008 versus 19% in 2013) and less likely to
turn off the TV altogether (32% in 2008 compared to 19% in 2013). Protecting viewers in the future
While on-demand TV is estimated to account for only 2.5% of TV viewing, Ofcom recognises this poses new challenges.
Ofcom is working with Government, other regulators and industry to ensure that children remain protected if they choose on-demand TV over traditional broadcast TV, where Ofcom's strict watershed rules apply.
This would mean that consumers have a clear understanding of the protections that apply on different platforms and devices, and know which regulatory body to turn to if they have any concerns.
Of course the moralist campaigners are not impressed by the decline in whinges.
Pippa Smith of Safermedia said the report showed x-rated content has become normalised and viewers are desensitised to it.