Ofcom gets heavy with TV broadcasters. The TV censor explains (with MF emphasis added):
In Ofcom's Annual Plan 2013/2014, we committed to review how we license television and radio services and enforce general licence conditions and content standards on those services. Our aim in this work was to increase protection of audiences
by: ensuring licensees are fully aware of their obligations; detecting non-compliant content and conduct more effectively; and enforcing against it robustly. We have now concluded a comprehensive review of our licensing and content standards
enforcement processes. We are now implementing some changes, detailed below, to strengthen our processes. We did not conduct a consultation as part of this review as it did not involve any proposed change to our published procedures.
In the past, Ofcom has generally conducted ad hoc monitoring, as required. We are now in the process of expanding our content monitoring programme to increase our ability to detect content which raises issues of potential harm to the audience.
This will enable us to check whether licensees found in breach of our rules and licence conditions, and those on whom we have imposed sanctions, have improved their compliance. It will also enable us to check content broadcast on
channels/stations about which we receive low numbers of complaints. Any investigations and Findings which result from our content monitoring will be published in the Broadcast Bulletin in the normal way.
Licensees are required by a condition in their licences to have sufficient compliance procedures in place to ensure compliance with Ofcom's codes and licence conditions. To detect serious and systemic compliance problems as early as possible,
and therefore protect audiences from potential harm, we have implemented a new enforcement approach. In cases where we are concerned about a licensee's compliance procedures, based on its recent compliance history, we will conduct an
investigation under our General procedures for investigating breaches of broadcast licences1.
'Assistance' for licence applicants and licensees
To improve the overall compliance of our licensees, we will work to actively 'assist' applicants and licensees in their understanding of their regulatory obligations.
In addition to the meetings we already hold with existing licensees, we will be 'inviting' new licensees to meet with us. When a new licence is issued or awarded, the licensee will receive an invitation to attend a meeting with Ofcom. During the
meeting we will 'offer' general support on regulatory obligations and the application of our codes, rules and licence requirements in order to provide licensees with a toolkit to devise and/or review their own compliance arrangements to ensure
they are sufficiently robust.
ESPN is a sports television channel broadcasting a combination of live sports events and sports related programming.
During live coverage of a baseball match in America, the commentators talked very briefly about the pitcher who kept looking at a batter at first base because the batter was attempting to steal base'. This involved the batter moving
back-and-forth on first base in an ungainly manner to distract the pitcher. These movements prompted one of the commentators to say:
"He [the pitcher] might be just looking at him because he looks like such a spaz".
A viewer alerted Ofcom to the reference to "spaz" in the commentary, saying that it was an offensive term to describe someone with physical disabilities.
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
ESPN apologised for any offence caused. The Licensee however said that:
the use of this word in America is not seen as offensive as it is here. As a consequence, this presents UK broadcasters, especially in relation to the coverage of live sport, difficult challenges.
ESPN explained its live coverage of Major League Baseball is via an international feed from the US host broadcaster. The Licensee said that during a live programme, if offensive language is broadcast, the US commentator would immediately
apologise . However, in this case, ESPN Limited said the:
US commentator didn't (and wouldn't) apologise because the word spaz in America is largely seen as inoffensive. The Licensee said this word is used [in the USA] to describe someone who is clumsy or un-coordinated and is generally linked with
that person being excessively excited or hyperactive.
Ofcom Decision: Breach of rule 2.3
Ofcom acknowledged that ESPN is an established channel broadcasting American sporting events live. Ofcom understands that, in American slang, the term spaz is largely inoffensive. We noted the Licensee's argument that the US commentator
was referring solely to the player's physical awkwardness rather than making a derogatory comment about disability. However, in our view, a UK audience, even one familiar with ESPN content, would not automatically have understood the different
meaning of the word in the USA and it would therefore have been capable of causing considerable offence. Further, we considered that the fact that the word had been intended to refer to physical awkwardness increased the likelihood that viewers
would have assumed that the reference was linked to disability.
ESPN operates under an Ofcom UK broadcasting licence. It must therefore adhere to generally accepted standards. The Licensee must take UK audience expectations into account when transmitting material broadcast live from America. As pointed out
above, the word spaz can cause considerable offence to UK viewers and listeners, and we noted that no apology to viewers was broadcast in this case.
On balance, Ofcom's view was that the use of spaz in these particular circumstances was not justified by the context and Rule 2.3 was breached.
Gypsy campaigners have lost their high court challenge over Ofcom's handling of their complaint about Channel 4's Big Fat Gypsy Wedding television programmes.
Mr Justice Ouseley on Friday dismissed a judicial review brought against the TV censor by theTraveller Movement, a group supporting 300,000 gypsies and travellers.
At a hearing in London at the end of last year, its lawyers said that Ofcom unlawfully dismissed its complaint in November 2013 after conducting a procedurally unfair investigation into accusations that the Channel 4 programmes gave a negative
portrayal of Traveller communities and confirmed social prejudices in a way likely to cause harm to children in those communities. The charity had claimed that the Channel 4 broadcasts of Big Fat Gypsy Weddings and Thelma's Gypsy Girls had
depicted children in a sexualised way and portrayed men and boys as feckless, violent and criminal.
An Ofcom spokesperson said: The court has agreed that Ofcom thoroughly investigated the complaints made against Big Fat Gypsy Weddings and Thelma's Gypsy Girls. We are pleased our decision was upheld.
TV censor Ofcom has cleared the BBC of breaching broadcasting rules over a rape storyline, which prompted a few complaints.
The episode, shown in October, featured scenes from before and after the rape of Queen Vic landlady Linda Carter, played by Kellie Bright.
More than 90 people complained to Ofcom about the episode, while more than 250 complaints were made to the BBC.
Ofcom have now responded that said graphic content had been avoided and that warnings had been given to viewers. A spokesman said:
After carefully investigating complaints about this scene, Ofcom found the BBC took appropriate steps to limit offence to viewers. This included a warning before the episode and implying the assault, rather than depicting it.
Ofcom also took into account the programme's role in presenting sometimes challenging or distressing social issues.