The Simpsons is an irreverent animated comedy produced in the USA, appealing to a mixed audience of children and adults, and broadcast by Channel 4
Ofcom was alerted by a viewer to a sequence in which Homer Simpson was shown hanging by a noose from a tree. The viewer felt this was inappropriate for an early evening broadcast when families would be watching.
Ofcom viewed the programme. We noted that the storyline in this episode centred on the relationship between Homer Simpson and his son, Bart, and prominently featured strangulation. In summary, the key segments included:
A therapist sought to build trust between father and son through a series of outdoor activities, which Bart used to ridicule Homer. This culminated in a sequence in which Homer was shown standing on the branch of a tree with rope in a noose around his
neck. The therapist persuaded Homer to jump, assuring him that Bart will cut you down . As Homer jumped from the branch, kicking and struggling against the tightened noose, Bart turned away to write a text message on his phone. The action then
moved to a different location.
When Bart was shown again, Homer's feet were visible in the background, still kicking in thin air. The therapist then strangled Bart in frustration at the boy's callousness, while Homer -- avoiding suffocation by holding the noose away from his neck with
his hands -- remarked You see? You see how that boy pushes your buttons! The therapist continued to strangle Bart, stating We'll talk when he's dead. Just break already . Bart reached to cut Homer down. After Homer fell to the ground he
removed the therapist's fingers from around Bart's neck.
Ofcom considered Rule 1.3:
Children must...be protected by appropriate scheduling from material that is unsuitable for them.
Channel 4 apologised for any offence caused to viewers by this episode. Channel 4 said that it had reviewed and made edits to the instances of violence and potentially imitable behaviour in this episode before it was originally broadcast in December
2014, mainly to reduce the hanging scene. As a result of that broadcast, the Licensee said it had received two complaints about the content. In light of those complaints, Channel 4 said the episode was reviewed again with the result that the
cumulative effect of the mock strangulation together with the hanging scene were deemed to be too strong for the scheduled time. Channel 4 said regrettably, due to human error, the edits which were considered necessary to correct this were not put
into effect with the consequence that the episode was repeated without the further edits . Channel 4 said it would not repeat this episode before the watershed, and that it will be reviewing the specific compliance process for The Simpsons
going forward .
Ofcom Decision: Breach of Rule 1.3
Although we were mindful of the comedic nature of the material, this episode focused on strangulation and contained a prolonged sequence showing a repeated physical attack on Homer who did not resist, and who clearly appeared to suffer as the assault was
taking place. We considered that a sequence in which a well-known character was first encouraged to hang himself and was then shown doing so was uncomfortable and unexpected. We acknowledged that the comedic tone helped to limit the potential
unsuitability of the material for child viewers. However, we considered that this was insufficient to counteract the overall effect of the separate and lengthy instances of physical harm shown. We therefore considered that the cumulative effect of these
sequences made the material unsuitable for children.
Ofcom acknowledges that the inclusion of potentially harmful acts in an animated programme can distance viewers from their portrayal and can mitigate their potential unsuitability for child viewers to some extent. However, this does not mean that the
portrayal of such acts does not need to be suitably limited in this type of programming. In this case, we considered that the scenes of strangulation and hanging were likely to have exceeded audience expectations for a programme shown at 18:00 on a
public service channel.
We noted the decision by Channel 4 not to show this episode again in a pre-watershed slot and its apology for the broadcast of this material. Nevertheless, we concluded that this episode of The Simpsons was not appropriately scheduled and was therefore
in breach of Rule 1.3.
Ofcom gives its verdict on Jimmy Swaggart's christian preaching. But only gay people are protected from such abuse. It seems perfectly OK to label heterosexual porn viewers as living in 'a quagmire of filth'
Jimmy Swaggart The Classics
SBN International, 7 July 2015, 17:00
Son Life Broadcasting Network International ( SBN International ) broadcasts on digital satellite platforms, primarily to a Christian audience. The channel's content consists of music and sermons by Christian televangelist Jimmy Swaggart and
members of his ministry.
A complainant alerted Ofcom to homophobic comments made during a 1985 sermon delivered by Jimmy Swaggart to an audience in Texas, and included in this Jimmy Swaggart the Crusade Classics programme.
At about 17:52 Jimmy Swaggart moved to the centre of the stage and began his sermon. He said that the world, and more specifically the United States, was being inundated by a variety of sexual sins . He stated, Our nation staggers under a
quagmire of filth . He then listed the following as filth : pornography ; homosexuality ; paedophilia ; sexual child abuse and incest, which runs rampant in the United States .
After referring to a Gay Pride event that had taken place in San Francisco, he stated that the Board of Deputies had issued a permit for this vile, degenerate event to be consummated , and went on to say that homosexuals were sex perverts, that
is the correct terminology . To applause from the audience he added that homosexuals were not gay, not alternate lifestyle, but sex perverts . Describing scenes at the New Orleans Mardi Gras, he said that he saw repulsive looking
transvestites , who had disgraced the floats with their obnoxious presence .
Ofcom considered its 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...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).
Licensee Lancaster LLC stated that this programme was broadcast as a result of human error :
The fact that this programme aired in the UK on 7th July 2015 was a scheduling error which should not have occurred. Lancaster LLC acknowledged that some of the terminology used at the time this sermon was originally delivered might be considered
offensive to members of the homosexual community in the present day, for which the channel sincerely apologizes.
Ofcom Decision: Breach of Rule 2.3
We first considered whether this content had the potential to cause offence. Ofcom noted that Jimmy Swaggart described a Gay Pride parade as a vile, degenerate event , homosexuals as sex perverts , and transvestites as disgracing floats at
a carnival by their obnoxious presence . Specifically referring to the San Francisco Gay Pride event, Jimmy Swaggart described it as the most obscene demonstration in the history of modern day nations [which] took place uninterrupted in the
city of San Francisco and a vile degenerate event to be consummated . Jimmy Swaggart did not specifically identify homosexual people as degenerate , but by referring to the Gay Parade event as a degenerate event , and an obscene demonstration
, viewers would have been left in no doubt that the participants in the parade were themselves being viewed as degenerate and obscene . Further, although he did not describe homosexual people as filth , Jimmy Swaggart did include
homosexuality in his list of sins which were filth . In our view this language was derogatory, homophobic and clearly capable of causing offence.
In Ofcom's view it would have been clear to viewers from factors like the on-screen graphic and style of dress of participants in the programme that the sermon dated from many years ago. We recognised that Jimmy Swaggart's remarks may have been likely to
cause a lower level of offence to some when they were originally made in the 1980s. But we noted that when they were broadcast in this programme in 2015, they were much more likely to be understood by viewers as pejorative abuse, rather than remarks
grounded in religious teaching. We noted that in his sermon Jimmy Swaggart did make some references to scripture seeking to support of his statements, but in our view none of his Biblical references (as summarised by the Licensee) clearly provided
support from the Bible for describing homosexual people as sex perverts and homosexuality as filth . We concluded therefore that these comments were likely to have exceeded the expectations of the audience for this channel.
Breach of Rule 2.3
Shamefully Ofcom seem perfectly ok with heterosexual porn viewers being labelled as people staggering under a quagmire of filth.
Larger broadcasters and communications companies face bigger fines under new rules adopted by Ofcom . Ofcom will now take into account total
turnover when deciding penalties to impose on firms which breach its rules. The seriousness of a breach will also be given more weight, while precedent set by historical cases will be less important in deciding on the level of fines.
The changes follow a consultation which took contributions from 14 interested organisations, half of which were from companies which Ofcom regulates. Four organisations supported the proposals while the rest did not.
Ofcom also announced that Stephen Hill has stepped down as a non-executive of Ofcom's Board to pursue other opportunities.
The annual consultation on Ofcom's work programme for 2016/17 has been published and there seems a few work packages related to TV and internet censorship:
Clarifying the rules prohibiting the broadcast of extremist content.
Ofcom takes the broadcasting of content that incites crime or disorder extremely seriously, in line with our statutory duty in this area. We will publish our decision, following a review of the Broadcasting Code, to ensure that our rules and guidance
make explicit to broadcasters the full range of content that is prohibited in this area
Reviewing how we approach the regulation of editorial content for on-demand programme services.
Following our decision to act as a sole regulator in this area, alongside our linear broadcasting work, we will publish the findings of our review regarding how we approach the regulation of editorial content for on-demand programme services.
Reporting on audience attitudes towards broadcast media.
This annual research report looks at audiences' attitudes towards content on TV and radio. It includes levels of perceived harm and offence.
Considering the watershed and other tools designed to protect children from inappropriate content.
We will consider whether it is appropriate to update rules in the Broadcasting Code relating to the protection of children. Specifically, we will examine whether or not it is appropriate to allow broadcasters to show content more suitable for adults
before the watershed, provided that robust access controls, such as PIN protection, are in place. As part of this we will examine the effectiveness of these tools and their interaction with the watershed, alongside any potential benefits to broadcasters
Inside Amy Schumer (trailer)
Comedy Central, 5 September 2015, 22:00
A complainant alerted Ofcom to a trailer broadcast at 22:00 on Comedy Central for the new season of Inside Amy Schumer, which they considered to be too graphic in its language and description of sexual acts.
The trailer featured a group of men sitting around a table playing poker. A female character played by the comedian Amy Schumer entered the room with a plate of chicken wings, which she placed in the middle of the poker table. Before leaving the
room she turned to one of the players, her husband, played by the actor Zach Braff, and put her arms around his neck before saying:
If nobody needs anything else, honey, I'm going to head upstairs, start lubing up, so you can blast my dirt-box with your thumb while you lobster hand me in the twat, okay? Seriously, I want you to thumb-dash that mudpit 'til I make a pig noise.
Then you can shit on my tits while I call my mom.
Amy Schumer then addressed the other poker players ( You guys are always welcome here! ) before leaving the room. Zach Braff then paused for a moment, while all the other poker players looked down in an uncomfortable silence, and then
reached for a chicken wing and said: Guess I should eat up... I gotta shit on those tits!
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, offensive language,...sex,...discriminatory treatment or
language (for example on the grounds of...gender.... Appropriate information should also be broadcast where it would assist in avoiding or minimising offence.
Ofcom Decision: Breach of rule 2.2
Although the Code requires that potentially offensive material is justified by its context, there is significant room for innovation, creativity and challenging material within comedy programming. However, broadcasters do not have unlimited
licence in terms of offensive material. There may be circumstances in which relevant contextual factors (such as whether the editorial content is programming or a trailer, audience expectations, or warnings given to the audience) are not
sufficient to justify the broadcast of offensive material.
Ofcom first considered whether the material in this programme had the potential to cause offence. We noted that in this trailer Amy Schumer used a number of highly graphic terms to describe various sexual acts such as: lubing up ; blast
my dirt-box with your thumb ; lobster hand me in the twat ; thumb-dash that mudpit ; and shit on my tits . We considered that these various graphic, sexual references were clearly capable of causing offence.
We went on to consider whether the broadcast of these potentially offensive statements were justified by the context.
We assessed first the editorial context in which the trailer was broadcast. We noted this trailer was broadcast at 22:002, one hour after the watershed. We recognised that viewers of specialist comedy channels, such as Comedy Central, would have
been likely to expect stronger and more challenging material to be broadcast at this time well after the watershed.
However, the content in this case was included within a trailer. Ofcom's research on offensive language notes that audiences consider offensive language less acceptable if it is included in trailers. This is because audiences do not choose to
watch promotions for programmes. They come across them unawares. Viewers cannot therefore make informed choices to avoid offensive material in trailers compared to pre-scheduled programmes, and consequently audiences consider that the offensive
language is imposed upon them.
Ofcom noted that this material was highly graphic in its use of sexual language, and that in our opinion the latitude given to licensees to broadcast highly offensive language in trailers (which are promotional and which viewers come across
unawares) should be less than in programmes. We concluded that the content was so offensive that in our view it would have exceeded viewers' expectations even when broadcast at 22:00 (and afterwards) on a specialist comedy channel.
Ofcom similarly whinged about the same channel's trailer for South Park shown at 10pm.
The trailer had a total duration of about 30 seconds. It featured a song celebrating South Park's new season, citing various situations that the characters had found themselves in previous episodes. The lyrics were as follows:
Do you recall when Cartman found out his mom was his Dad?
Or Kyle being turned into a human centi-pad?
Or how Butters became a pimp and took care of his hos?
Well, I got some good news for you; we're making brand new shows!
South Park's back for series 19, I can't fucking wait.
They've been on for nearly 20 years and they're still fucking great.
'I think I prefer Family Guy', some fucking asshole moans.
Well, why don't you go fuck yourself 'cos South Park's coming home!
Our view was that the offensive content within this trailer was not justified by the context and exceeded generally accepted standards. Consequently, the trailer breached Rule 2.3 of the Code.
Ofcom has appointed two new members to its Content Board.
Aled Eirug has over three decades of experience in the media, including ten years as Head of News and Current Affairs at BBC Wales. Aled is currently a Member of the S4C Authority and Chair of the British Council advisory committee in Wales. Aled
is joining as Ofcom's Content Board Member for Wales and will also sit on Ofcom's Advisory Committee for Wales.
Dr Zahera Harb is a Senior Lecturer in Journalism at City University London. Zahera brings an in-depth understanding of media and communications and adds expertise and knowledge in minority language broadcasting to Ofcom's Content Board. She is a
board member of the Ethical Journalism Network.
Ofcom's Content Board is a committee of the main Ofcom Board, with delegated and advisory responsibility for a wide range of content issues. It serves as Ofcom's primary forum for the regulation of television, radio and video-on-demand quality and
Aled and Zahera's appointments take effect from 1 December 2015. Both are for three-year terms. Aled Eirug is replacing Glyn Mathias who stepped down earlier this summer as Content Board Member for Wales.
Children are becoming more trusting of what they see online, but sometimes lack the understanding to decide whether it is true or impartial.
Ofcom's Children and Parents: Media and Attitudes Report reveals that children aged 8-15 are spending more than twice as much time online as they did a decade ago, reaching over 15 hours each week in 2015. But even for children who have
grown up with the internet - so-called digital natives - there's room to improve their digital know-how and understanding.
For example, children do not always question what they find online. One in five online 12-15s (19%) believe information returned by a search engine such as Google or Bing must be true, yet only a third of 12-15s (31%) are able to identify paid-for
adverts in these results.
Nearly one in ten (8%) of all children aged 8-15 who go online believe information from social media websites or apps is all true - doubling from 4% in 2014.
Children are increasingly turning to YouTube for true and accurate information about what's going on in the world. The video sharing site is the preferred choice for this kind of information among nearly one in ten (8%) online children, up
from just 3% in 2014. But only half of 12-15s (52%) who watch YouTube are aware that advertising is the main source of funding on the site, and less than half (47%) are aware that vloggers (video bloggers) can be paid to endorse products or
James Thickett, Ofcom's Director of Research, said:
The internet allows children to learn, discover different points of view and stay connected with friends and family. But these digital natives still need help to develop the know-how they need to navigate the online world.
More than nine in ten parents of 8-15s (92%) manage their children's internet use in some way - either through technical tools, talking to or supervising their child, or setting rules about access to the internet and online behaviour. Nearly four
in ten parents (38%) use all four approaches.
Among the technical tools used by parents are network-level content filters offered by broadband providers. Almost six in ten parents of 8-15s (56%) are aware of these parental controls, up from 50% in 2014, and a quarter (26%) use them, up from
21% in 2014.
It appears that the vast majority of children do hear the advice given about staying safe online. Some 97% of children aged 8-15 recall advice they've been given, particularly from parents.
The large majority (84%) of children aged 8-15 also say they would tell their parents, another family member or a teacher if they saw something online they found worrying, nasty or offensive. However, 6% of children say they would not tell anyone.
A BBC radio DJ who said that breastfeeding in public was unnatural has been criticised by TV censor Ofcom for
his highly offensive comments.
Alex Dyke told listeners of his daily show on BBC Radio Solent that he found it embarrassing to sit next to a breastfeeding mother on the bus.
Ofcom today announced that 45 complaints against Dyke had been upheld, saying that his views were likely to be perceived as misogynistic .
The comments breached rule 2.3 of the body's regulations, which states that potentially offensive material must be justified by its context. An Ofcom spokesman said:
We found this radio discussion broke our rules regarding offensive content. The presenter's statements were highly offensive, stereotyped women who breastfed and were likely to be perceived as misogynistic.
The BBC took various steps after the broadcast, including the presenter broadcasting an apology, further compliance training for the presenter, and tightening its compliance processes.
However the presenter had been permitted to broadcast highly offensive comments, with minimal editorial oversight.
The Daily Mail seems to have quite cleverly pieced together news about Ofcom's sacking of ATVOD and related statements, (but not directly on the subject of censoring Clarkson) to give the impression that it is all about retaining the ability to censor
Jeremy Clarkson after his move from TV to the Video on Demand service, Amazon Prime. The Daily Mail writes:
Ofcom has taken it upon itself to extend its watchdog remit to internet TV shows in a move that will come as a blow to Jeremy Clarkson's hopes for freedom for his new Amazon series.
The broadcasting regulator announced it is taking over internet-watch duties of online video content from the little-known quango Authority for Television On Demand (ATVOD) following an internal review.
It comes just weeks after former Top Gear presenter Clarkson said he was looking forward to freedom from finger wagging .
Following filming of the new Amazon Prime motoring show, Clarkson wrote in his Sunday Times car review section that he was in the free world, where you can say what you want.
But it has now emerged that the programme will be overseen by the TV regulator.
The Daily Mail doesn't mention that the legal constraints on VoD censorship are set at a higher bar and are more about hate speech than mere taste and decency, but why spoil the case.
The newspaper also notes the news that the EU is eyeing further censorship powers over the wider internet, not just VoD.
The European Union has launched a public consultation on current rules surrounding broadcast and on demand media
Next year there will be a full review of the EU's Audiovisual Media Services Directive, originally adopted in 2010, where the European Commission will examine whether the current system should be adapted.
It will also look at whether the directive's current scope should be broadened so as to apply to new services and players that are outside the existing definition of audio-visual media services.
Ofcom have sacked ATVOD as explained in the following statement:
The regulation of video-on-demand programme services is being brought fully within Ofcom to sit alongside its regulation of broadcast
The move follows an Ofcom review to ensure regulation of broadcast and on-demand content remains as effective and efficient as possible for the benefit of consumers, audiences and industry.
The review included the current co-regulatory arrangements for video-on-demand services. These can include catch-up TV and on-demand services on the TV and the internet. Ofcom designated the Authority for Television On Demand (ATVOD) in 2010 as a
co-regulator to take the lead in regulating editorial content for video-on-demand services.
Following the review, Ofcom has decided that acting as sole regulator for video-on-demand programmes is a more effective model for the future than having two separate bodies carrying out this work. This will create operational efficiencies and allow
editorial content on video-on-demand to sit alongside Ofcom's existing regulation of broadcasting.
Video-on-demand services have become increasingly popular among viewers. The proportion of adults aged 15 and over that watch video-on-demand services has increased from 27% in 2010 to 57% in 2014, according to Ofcom research.
ATVOD has played an important, effective role in regulating on-demand TV over the past five years. Like Ofcom, it is committed to protecting audiences from harmful content.
ATVOD and Ofcom are therefore working closely together to ensure a smooth transfer of responsibilities so that audiences, especially children, remain protected at all times.
As co-regulator for on-demand services, Ofcom already has concurrent responsibility to act in addition to, or in place of, ATVOD. From 1 January 2016, Ofcom will take sole responsibility for regulating video-on-demand programme services. The Advertising
Standards Authority will continue to act as a co-regulator for advertising content on video-on-demand services.
The UK's video on demand regulator today responded to Ofcom's decision to end ATVOD's role as the co-regulator for the editorial content of on demand programme services on 31 December 2015, after nearly six years.
Commenting on the decision, ATVOD Chair Ruth Evans said:
We are immensely proud of the work ATVOD has done since it was given the job of overseeing a brand
new set of regulatory rules for video on demand services in 2010. We have done this as a co-regulator dedicated to engaging fully with the industry we regulate in order to ensure that consumers enjoy the protections to which they are entitled without the
imposition of unnecessary burdens on providers of video on demand services. Under our regulation, the UK video on demand industry has grown strongly and consumer complaints have been dealt with effectively and efficiently.
Our task now is to make sure that our service to consumers and service providers remains of the highest standard during the remaining months of 2015 and to work closely with Ofcom to manage a smooth and seamless transition. We will do this with the
professionalism stakeholders have come to expect of ATVOD over the past few years.
ATVOD Chief Executive Pete Johnson said:
We would like to thank all those who have helped us discharge our duties since 2010, including past and present Industry Forum Chairs Kerry Kent and Martin Stott, past and present Industry Forum Deputy Chairs Helena Brewer and Michael Gooding and all the
service providers who have helped put the 'co' in co-regulation by serving on our Board and participating via our joint working parties. Our regulation benefited greatly from their input and we've been pleased to develop together a robust and efficient
model of co-regulation taking a fledgling industry sector through its first five years.
Finally, we'd like to thank the ATVOD staff and Board for all their hard work and dedication. They have done a challenging job fantastically well.
Ofcom have indeed upheld the appeal against ATVOD decision that the site hosted by Clips4Sale qualifies for censorship by ATVOD.
Ofcom's arguments are way too intricate to precis here but the video content was found to be too short and unprofessional to count as TV-like. It also becomes clear how incompetent EU lawmakers are issuing legislation that is so vague and meaningless
that the only way to handle it is through officials and barristers to argue what the lawmakers were trying to say. And that is for the most basic issue as to whether a website qualifies as something that needs state censorship. Shame on the EU.
In a tediously long report, Ofcom have had a whinge at trailers on Comedy Central that were considered too adult for daytime
Ofcom received more than 200 complaints about the tone, humour and language used in more than a dozen trailers that aired repeatedly on Comedy Central and Comedy Central Extra before the 9pm watershed.
The trailers included comedian Howard performing a standup routine which included the line you filthy bitch which aired at 9.30am on Christmas Eve during cartoon series Penguins of Madagascar.
Delaney's pre-watershed trailer included the comedian talking about fingering because I've just learned how to do it .
Other clips included a trailer promoting a South Park Erection Night Special and trailers for a post-watershed scheduled animation series Brickleberry, which featured cartoon characters being graphically killed.
Paramount UK-owned Comedy Central's initial response to Ofcom was that none of the trailers was in breach of the broadcasting code because the channel was not intended to appeal to, nor aimed, at children . The broadcaster said that it had worked
hard to make sure that the references and comments in its trailers would go over the heads of younger viewers watching .
Ofcom ruled that all of the trailers broke broadcasting rules including that children must be protected from unsuitable material by appropriate scheduling of content. The TV censor said that the trailers were clearly unsuitable to be broadcast
before the 9pm watershed.