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Ofcom Watch

2009: Jan-March

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27th March   

Update: Shi'a Nonsense...

Ofcom wisely back off from matters of religious 'balance'
Link Here

The Qur'an
Channel 4, 14 July 2008, 20:00

The Qur'an was a two-hour documentary made by the film-maker, Antony Thomas. It was broadcast as part of Channel 4's Islam Unveiled season, a week of programmes dealing with Islam. The Qur'an examined what the Qur'an itself says on a range of issues such as crime and punishment, violence and conflict, and the treatment of women. The programme attempted to relate present-day Islamic practice and beliefs to the Qur'anic source text.

The programme contained several sequences discussing Shi'a practice and beliefs. In particular, it focussed on “intercession”. Intercession is the practice of directing prayers and requests to God through certain members of the family of the Prophet Mohammed. This includes Imam Ali Reza and his descendents, the eighth of the twelve Imams who are perceived by some to be the religious and political successors to the Prophet Mohammed.

Ofcom received 21 complaints from individuals on the grounds that it portrayed Shi'a Muslims in a negative, unbalanced and irresponsible light , with a series of misrepresentations of the Qur'an's teachings. Ofcom also received a detailed complaint from 12 organisations representing Shi'a Islam within the UK.

Based on article from

The complainants said the film risked increasing tensions within the Muslim community between Sunnis and Shi'as, and inspiring violence against Shi'as. They also chastised it for not using Shi'a scholars and commentators in the UK and for giving insufficient time to Shi'a contributors in general.

Ofcom ruled that the programme did not mislead viewers on Shi'a belief and practices and that it could not be judged as likely to inspire violence against Shi'as.

The regulator was unable to rule on the grounds of balance, as its remit in this area covers only news and factual output relating to political or industrial controversy or public policy.

C4 commissioning editor, religion and multicultural Aaqil Ahmed said: Hopefully we can now remember this film for what it was - a truly original piece of landmark television. Antony Thomas and Samir Shah's amazing efforts to get it made and made so well should be applauded and from now on any film made on the subject will have a remarkable benchmark.

I am pleased that Ofcom has endorsed the views of TV critics, who described The Qur'an as 'scrupulously fair-minded', 'exhaustively researched' and 'an exemplary piece of programme making.

I am grateful that this ruling, by the independent regulatory body responsible for broadcasting, completely dismisses the unfounded allegations


26th March   

Leave Off Right Now...

Ofcom whinge at Chris Moyles gay take on Will Young
Link Here

Chris Moyles
BBC Radio 1
20 January 2009 at 08:15

During the broadcast of his breakfast show, Chris Moyles discussed the birthdays of celebrities with his studio team. During the discussion he told listeners that it was the birthday of singer Will Young. He then imitated Will Young by singing alternative versions of two of the singer's well known singles: Evergreen and Leave Right Now . During the imitation the presenter adopted an effeminate and high pitched voice.

When singing his alternative version of Evergreen , Chris Moyles broadcast the lyrics: It's my birthday, gonna wear my new dress tonight. And I smell nice. I've had a shower and I've shaved my legs. Going out later, might go to Nob-oooh for dinner.

During the alternative version of Leave Right Now , Chris Moyles broadcast the lyrics: Oooh Will Young here, mmmmh. I'm here, it's Will's birthday and as the years go by I get more very gay. When you saw me years ago you didn't know, but now I'm the gayest fella you probably know. mmm I like to wear a silly hat, I get camper by the hour, oh would you look at the muck in here. I'm Will Young and I'm gay.

Ofcom received eight complaints from listeners who were concerned that Chris Moyles ridiculed Will Young because of his sexuality. The complainants also said that the comments were offensive and derogatory towards the gay community.

Ofcom considered Rule 2.3 of the Code (material that may cause offence must be justified by the context).

Ofcom Decision: Breach of Rule 2.3

Ofcom recognises that the Chris Moyles show is well known for its irreverent style and humour, with satirical sketches, studio banter and discussion making up a key part of the show. We also acknowledge that Chris Moyles commonly uses celebrities as the target of his humour in this way.

Ofcom notes the BBC's response that the comments made by Chris Moyles about Will Young were not intended to be taken as hostile or derogatory. However, in Ofcom's opinion, the comments were clearly based on the singer's sexuality and therefore capable of giving offence.

The BBC acknowledged that the comments were unacceptable. Ofcom was also concerned by this material, and in particular the language used and the tone and manner in which the comments were made. In Ofcom's opinion, the language used to imitate Will Young could have reasonably been interpreted by listeners as promoting and condoning certain negative stereotypes based on sexual orientation. Ofcom considered that the presenter's use of an effeminate and high pitched voice would have promoted these stereotypes further. Although no doubt intended to be humorous, comments such as these and the manner in which they were delivered, in Ofcom's view, could reasonably have been perceived as hostile and pejorative. In Ofcom's opinion, the broadcast of this language by Chris Moyles, taking account of both the tone and words, had the potential to cause considerable offence.

We also had regard to the time of broadcast - the weekday breakfast time slot that attracts a young audience, including large numbers of children. Ofcom was therefore particularly concerned that the broadcast of this type of material may have the potential to encourage listeners, especially children, to discriminate against others because of their or perceived sexual orientation. Such material runs the risk of being imitated by children, for instance in the playground, causing unnecessary distress.

In light of these factors, Ofcom concluded that the material was not justified by the context and so went beyond generally accepted standards for this type of programme. While we acknowledge the action taken by the BBC to prevent the future broadcast of similar material, we concluded that the programme breached Rule 2.3.


24th March   

Obscuring the Sin in Sin Cities...

Ofcom warns that the need to pixelate images is an indication that the material is unsuitable for broadcast.
Link Here

Sin Cities
Virgin 1, 8 November 2008, 22:00

Ofcom received a complaint about an episode of Sin Cities , an observational documentary series, featuring the presenter Ashley Hames. At the start of the programme the presenter describes Sin Cities as the spiritual enclave of everything that is sinful, depraved and just down right disturbing in the international world of sexual intercourse. This episode focussed on the issue of men who are married to actresses who work in the ‘adult' film industry in the United States.

The complainant expressed concern that the language and images in this episode were offensive, given that the material was broadcast at 22:00 on Virgin 1, which is a general entertainment channel available unencrypted.

Ofcom noted that throughout the majority of the programme there were repeated scenes of two pornography actresses engaged in sexual acts but with the act of penetration and genitalia considerably masked. The first actress was professional and the second amateur. These scenes were interspersed with clips from interviews with the actresses, their husbands and the male pornography actors appearing with them in the films. There were also brief clips from an interview with a Pro-Family activist.

During the interview with the professional pornography actress, Taylor Wayne, and her husband, several clips of the actress engaged in sexual activity while performing in ‘adult' films were broadcast. Her husband was shown filming some of the scenes, which included oral sex and sexual intercourse. During the second interview with the amateur pornography actress, De'Bella, at least fifteen different scenes of her engaged in sexually explicit acts were shown. These included anal and oral sex in different positions with three male pornography actors. In some scenes, which were filmed at a distance, masked or limited, she was shown with one actor, in others she was engaged in explicit sex acts such as oral sex with all three.

Before the programme started the broadcaster advised viewers with a pre-transmission warning that Sin Cities included strong language and sexual scenes.

Ofcom considered Rule 2.3: in applying generally accepted standards broadcasters must ensure that material which may cause offence is justified by the context.

Ofcom Decision: Breach of Rule 2.3

Virgin Media argued that certain factors ensured that the ‘adult' material complained of was justified by the context and so it had applied generally accepted standards. These factors included that: the programme had a serious editorial purpose; the sexually explicit images were appropriately limited and masked; and the programme was broadcast later in the schedule and well signposted.

In Ofcom's opinion, however, these factors taken together did not ensure that the potentially offensive material was justified by the context. As regards editorial content, whilst the presenter's commentary and the interview with the Pro-Family activist offered some editorial focus, the content overall did not, in Ofcom's opinion, provide adequate editorial context for, or analysis of, what the broadcaster described as the moral dilemmas of being married to a porn star.

Instead, at times, the programme lacked editorial distance and a considerable amount of the content concentrated on the detail of the sexual acts the actresses were undertaking rather than a serious analysis of the subject matter. More importantly, some of the sexual content shown did not appear directly relevant to the subject matter of the programme- in particular, a scene where De'Bella removed an anal plug and placed it in her mouth in a sexual manner, and a sequence in which the narrator made reference to bleeding from an anal tear De'Bella had suffered.

In assessing the context, Ofcom noted that the programme was broadcast on a general entertainment free-to-air channel and not on an encrypted channel. We also took account of the number, nature, repetition and strength of the images of the sexual activities featured in this episode (which included footage of the two adult actresses performing oral sex, receiving oral sex and having vaginal and anal sexual intercourse). In Ofcom's view the frequency and explicitness of these images had the potential to cause considerable offence, especially to viewers who might come across such content unawares.

Overall, we considered that this material exceeded the expectations of the audience for a programme of this type dealing with sexual themes and content but with some serious and observational editorial purpose – even though some viewers may have been familiar with similar ‘adult' content broadcast on Virgin 1 at the same time. Ofcom does not consider Sin Cities to be a work of sufficient seriousness or rigorous enquiry to attract special latitude in the strength of material it can properly contain.

Ofcom noted that the images of oral sex were cropped and that there was a considerable amount of masking of genitals. However, masking of genitals, acts of penetration and ejaculate does not relieve the broadcaster of its responsibility to ensure that the material meets generally accepted standards. Licensees should consider carefully whether the need to obscure images of sexual activity or intrusive nudity is in fact an indication that the material as a whole is unsuitable for broadcast.

For these reasons, Ofcom concluded that the graphic and frequent sexual images in this programme were not overall justified by the context. The broadcaster therefore did not apply generally accepted standards in this case and Rule 2.3 was breached.


12th March   

Change of TV Censor...

David Currie now replaced by Colette Bowe
Link Here

Ofcom Chairman David Currie stepped down yesterday after more than six years in the post.

Currie – who sits on the cross-benches in the House of Lords as Lord Currie of Marylebone - became Ofcom's inaugural chairman in July 2002.

Ofcom's new chairman is Dr Colette Bowe.

Bowewas the founding chairman of the Telecoms Ombudsman Council and chaired Ofcom's Consumer Panel (now the Communications Consumer Panel) from its inception in 2003 to December 2007.


24th February   

RSPCC Approved Storyline...

Ofcom finds in favour of EastEnders over grooming storyline
Link Here

BBC One, 12 September 2008 to December 2008, 19:30 and 20:00

EastEnders is a long-running and well established drama with a record for tackling hard hitting and, at times, controversial social issues. A storyline about a paedophile sexually abusing the 15 year old character Whitney, (the stepdaughter of the character Bianca), was introduced to the programme.

Ofcom received 90 complaints from viewers. The majority expressed concern that paedophilia was not an appropriate storyline for a pre-watershed programme. Some complainants had watched episodes with their children present and believed it was particularly unsuitable given the significant child audience the programme attracted.

The storyline began following the release of Bianca's partner Tony from prison, when he rejoined Bianca and her family who were now living in Albert Square. In the first episode featuring the storyline, broadcast on 12 September 2008, it was revealed to viewers that Tony had met Bianca when her stepdaughter Whitney was 12 and that he had begun sexually abusing Whitney at that time.

The closing scenes of the first episode showed Tony and the fifteen year old Whitney kissing in her bedroom and then lying back on her bed together. Some viewers expressed concern that the way in which the relationship between Tony and Whitney was presented in these initial episodes was inappropriate because it implied that such child abuse is acceptable and even consensual.

We reviewed the material with reference to:

  • Rule 1.3 (children must be protected by appropriate scheduling from material that is unsuitable for them)
  • Rule 2.3 (material which may cause offence must be justified by the context).

Ofcom Decision

The handling of such sensitive and challenging issues as paedophilia has to done with extreme care, especially in pre-watershed drama. It is understandable that some viewers were concerned when such a storyline was included in a programme which attracts a small but significant child audience.

The Code, itself, does not limit the subject matter that broadcasters may include in programmes. Compliance with the Code depends on how such matters are dealt with and the context in which they are broadcast.

Ofcom took the view that, in principle, the subject matter did not necessarily exceed the boundaries of acceptability for a pre-watershed drama such as EastEnders. Such dramas frequently deal with sensitive and uncomfortable subjects and child abuse has featured in pre-watershed soaps previously. The issue for Ofcom to consider was whether the broadcaster provided adequate protection to viewers and young people.

Ofcom noted that the complainants expressed concern that the storyline initially commenced with what briefly appeared on screen to be a consensual sexual relationship between Tony and the 15 year old Whitney. Ofcom took the view that given the type of sexual abuse presented in this storyline was grooming , and that guidance was provided by the children's charity NSPCC on the storyline, this first intimate scene was appropriate as it revealed the insidious nature of the abuse. Grooming is often conducted over a period of time with the perpetrator gaining trust with family and friends and building up a long term, albeit secretive, relationship with the victim in which they encourage them to believe it is loving and acceptable.

In terms of the treatment of the storyline, scenes featuring Tony and Whitney in the bedroom were also appropriately limited for a pre-watershed programme. They were never shown in bed, unclothed or engaged in anything more intimate than brief kissing.

Ofcom also noted that the culmination of the storyline in December, which featured Whitney revealing Tony's crime to Bianca, provided the appropriate conclusion. Tony was arrested and Whitney was clearly presented as a victim of paedophilia.

Ofcom noted that the production team approached the storyline with the close guidance of the NSPCC who advised on both the story development and the script. The BBC also sought advice from The Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Centre, social workers and the Metropolitan Police to ensure it was a true reflection of the way such child abuse takes place.

Not in Breach


24th February   

Ahmadinejad Uncensured...

Peace and goodwill extended even to barbaric regimes at Christmas
Link Here

The Alternative Christmas Message
Channel 4, 25 December 2008, 19:15

The Alternative Christmas Message was an address to the UK audience by President Ahmadinejad of Iran. It was the latest of such annual messages which have been broadcast by Channel 4 over the years. Ofcom received 295 complaints concerning the programme. It featured a seven-minute address from the Iranian President, preceded by a short film that gave a commentary on controversial political and social issues relating to Iran and President Ahmadinejad.

The complainants considered it offensive and inappropriate for airtime to be given to President Ahmadinejad, known for his controversial views and policies on issues such as the Holocaust, women, and homosexuals. Some complainants believed it was especially insulting for such a programme to be broadcast on Christmas Day.

In his address, President Ahmadinejad stated that, in his view, the problems of humanity could be linked to the indifference of people and governments to the teachings of the various prophets of the Abrahamic faiths, including Jesus Christ. He added his view that, if Jesus Christ were alive today, he would be against warmongering, terrorism, and what President Ahmadinejad termed the tyrannical policies of prevailing global, economic and political systems. We believe Jesus Christ will return along with one of the children of the revered messenger of Islam and will lead the world to love, brotherhood and justice. The responsibility of all followers of Christ and Abrahamic faiths is to prepare the way for the fulfilment of this divine promise and the arrival of that joyful, shining and wonderful age.

Ofcom considered Rule 2.3 of the Code (material that may cause offence must be justified by the context).

Ofcom Decision

Ofcom recognises that, at times, offence can be caused not by the actual content of a programme but by the very fact that people with controversial views are given airtime. Any potential offence in these circumstances can be exacerbated if viewers or listeners consider that such contributors' views are not properly challenged or contextualised.

Ofcom acknowledged that this programme, taken in its entirety, would have been challenging and upsetting to a number of people. However, in judging whether the offence caused represented a breach of the Code, Ofcom must take into account the broadcaster's right to freedom of expression, which includes the right to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority. The Code places no restrictions on the subjects covered by broadcasters, the manner in which such subjects are treated, the contributors used, or the day or time they are broadcast, so long as offensive material that is broadcast is justified by the context.

Whilst President Ahmadinejad gave what was an unmediated address to camera, Ofcom noted that this was importantly preceded by a short report, summarising the controversial issues and events which have been connected to him and his presidency. For example, Ofcom noted the following commentary in this segment of the programme:

Ofcom considered that President Ahmadinejad's contribution was put in sufficient context by the preceding commentary, which furnished the audience with useful background information on this particular contributor. Further, the actual content of his address could be described as non-confrontational, comprising as it did, a message of good will to the UK audience.

We therefore believe that the large majority of the audience would, in general, have not considered the material to be beyond what would normally be expected from this programme on this particular channel, the broadcast of this potentially offensive material was justified by the context.

Therefore, the programme was not in breach of Rule 2.3.


13th February   


Ofcom consider Alex Zane radio joke stepped over the line
Link Here

The Alex Zane Breakfast Show
XFM, 20 August 2008, 07:20

In this edition of the Alex Zane Breakfast Show , the programme discussed a song which it said was acceptable in the 1960's but would now be questionable at best. The song was Code of Love by Mike Sarne and had been released in 1963. The presenter then played the following sample from Code of Love :

Number 1 you find someone, 2 you hold her hand, 3 you kiss her on the cheek. Number 4 you squeeze her, number 5 you tease her, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, too late to say when.

The presenters then explained that they had been inspired to write and produce their own song, which like Sarne's song would be considered to be inappropriate now but may have been acceptable in the 60's. Before playing their song, one of the presenters said that it would only be played on the radio once but it would be available on the internet later where the laws are different.

The presenters' song was then played which featured a man describing his amorous and, at times, physical advances, and a woman attempting to refuse them.

Lyrics to the song included:

Man: “What's a girl like you doing out at this time?
Such a crackin bird, like to make you all mine
and I ain't taking ‘no' for an answer tonight.
Woman: What are you doing let go of my arm!
Man: Just settle down and you'll come to no harm
cause I ain't taking ‘no' for an answer tonight.
Man: I walked her down to where there ain't no big lights.
Woman: I'm telling you I'll put up a big fight!
Man: But I ain't taking ‘no' for an answer tonight.”
Man: “Do any of your friends know where you are?
Woman: Ere you've only gone and torn my new bra.
Man: That's cause I ain't taking ‘no' for an answer tonight.
Man: Why don't you take off some of your clothes?
Woman: I swear I am going to punch you in the nose!
Man: Don't care I'm not taking ‘no' for an answer tonight.”
Man: “Well she's the type of girl who knocks you right off your feet. That's what I tried to do to her, only she don't seem that interested. Looks like I'm going to have to try harder.”
Woman: “What are you doing, now why won't you leave me?
Man: Have a look at this - it's great believe me.
Woman: I told you ‘no' and that's my answer tonight.
Man: If this was fish and chips it'd be a double portion.
Woman: You're going to get another police caution!
Man: Look I ain't taking ‘no' for an answer tonight.”
Woman: (Police sirens in background.) Here come the cop cars, sirens wailing.
Man: My pickup technique must be failing.
I'll grudgingly accept ‘no' as an answer tonight.”

A listener complained that the song had contained connotations of rape.

Ofcom considered Rule 2.3 of the Code which says, In applying generally accepted standards broadcasters must ensure that material which may cause offence is justified by the context.

Ofcom Decision: Resolved

Ofcom recognises the sensitivities involved when comedy makes reference to or deals with challenging subjects. Comedy and satire in particular has a long tradition of pushing boundaries and challenging what is acceptable. Taste in comedy can also vary widely between people. Ofcom is not an arbiter of good taste but rather it must judge whether a broadcaster has applied generally accepted standards by ensuring that the audience was given adequate protection from offensive material. In each case when reaching a decision on whether material breached the Code, Ofcom must take into account the broadcaster's right to freedom of expression, which includes the right to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority unless prescribed by law.

It is clear from the introduction to the song that the programme was aiming to make a pastiche of Sarne's original song. The presenters were attempting to satirise what used to be acceptable in the 1960's but would now be considered totally inappropriate by today's standards. If was therefore always possible that the result could be offensive and therefore the context that such material was presented would be particularly important. .

However, the extract from Sarne's song played by the presenters bore little relation to the pastiche they attempted. The subject matter and tone of Code of Love were vastly different to the presenters' own song. In Ofcom's view, the presenters' song was likely to have been perceived by listeners as recounting a physical and sexual assault. Ofcom also noted that the subject matter of the presenters' song was portrayed as a light-hearted joke and the material was transmitted at breakfast-time, when children may be in the audience.

Ofcom notes XFM's actions following the broadcast. The Licensee initiated its own investigation into how the material had been broadcast without consultation with senior management. The broadcaster also aired its own on-air apology. Ofcom also noted that XFM introduced compliance workshops for those involved.

In dealing with satire, there is often a fine line between what is and what is not acceptable. It was clear there was an attempt in this case to parody what was considered to be acceptable in the 1960's. Although not necessarily appropriately executed, Ofcom acknowledges the actions taken by the broadcaster following transmission of the material and therefore considers the matter resolved.


12th February   

Asbestos Fire Proofed...

BBC let off over radio banter about travellers
Link Here

George Lamb
BBC 6 Music, 5 November 2008, 10:00

George Lamb presents a live week day show on the BBC digital radio station, 6 Music. The show, co-hosted by Marc Hughes, is described as inane banter plus amazing bands and guests playing live nearly every morning!

During this programme, the presenter discussed a news story concerning a bid by the American property tycoon, Donald Trump, to build a luxury golf course in Scotland and his battle with local fisherman, Michael Forbes, whose farm lies on the site initially approved for the complex. As part of the discussion the presenter said the following:

George Lamb: He's [i.e. Mr Forbes] now said ‘I'll give my land to travellers before I give it to Trump'

Marc Hughes: Did he say that? Brilliant

George Lamb: And you ain't moving travellers off basically. Travellers is [sic] like asbestos basically. The whole gaff is getting condemned.

Ofcom received six complaints from listeners who believed George Lamb's comment was racist towards the travelling community.

Ofcom considered Rule 2.3 (In applying generally accepted standards broadcasters must ensure that material which may cause offence is justified by the context).

The BBC said that it re-edited the iPlayer version to remove the section in question. George Lamb also made an on-air apology the day after his comments were broadcast.

Ofcom Decision

In view of the presenter's on-air apology and subsequent action taken by the BBC, Ofcom considers this matter resolved.


11th February   

Egg on their Face...

ITV admonished for exploding microwaved egg whimsy
Link Here

Funniest Ever You've Been Framed
ITV1, 1 November 2008 at 18:00

Funniest Ever You've Been Framed featured a selection of humorous home video clips.

This programme broadcast a clip in which a teenage boy microwaved an egg in its shell. The boy was filmed as he removed the heated egg (with its shell intact) from the microwave and held it up to the camera. Moments after this the egg exploded with a loud ‘bang', spraying its content over the camera lens.

Voice over at the beginning of the clip: Rule one of many, here's why you should never, ever put whole eggs in the microwave…

Voice over at end of the clip: For pity sake don't try it yourself.

A viewer felt that the broadcast of this clip was inappropriate and would encourage children to imitate dangerous behaviour.

Ofcom considered Rule 1.13 of the Code, which includes, Dangerous behaviour, or the portrayal of dangerous behaviour, that is likely to be easily imitable by children in a manner that is harmful, must not be broadcast before the watershed, or when children are particularly likely to be listening, unless there is editorial justification .

Ofcom Decision

The clip in question featured everyday household items: a microwave and an egg. Both items are regularly used and are of easy access. The clip itself clearly showed viewers how to make an egg explode. A potentially dangerous activity which, given its visual impact, may appeal to children. In light of these factors, Ofcom had concerns about the broadcast of this material at a time when a significant number of children were watching.

Ofcom noted the warning's provided at the beginning and end of the clip. However, given the clip presented laughter from the studio audience after the egg exploded and showed no negative consequences (e.g. any physical harm or pain to the individuals involved), Ofcom considered that this would have weakened the impact of these warnings. As a result, the clip could have been interpreted as both humorous and harmless, therefore encouraging children to imitate such behaviour.

While Ofcom had concerns about the broadcast of this material, it noted ITV's apology and its assurance not to repeat the material. In light of this, Ofcom considers the matter resolved.


10th February   


Ofcom dismiss suggestions that Swedes are less offended by strong language
Link Here

Penn & Teller: Bullshit!
TV6 Sweden, 27 September 2008 at 19:55

ITV6 is a Swedish language channel licensed by Ofcom but restricted to Swedish viewers

Penn & Teller: Bullshit! is a US entertainment series, originally broadcast on the US subscription channel Showtime. The series is hosted by the two American comedians/magicians Penn Jillette and Teller (known as Penn & Teller). The programme is described on the official Showtime website as a “high-octane, weird, wacky, entertaining journey through some bizarre territory that no one else is brave enough to touch” and aims to cause controversy by applying Penn & Teller's critical approach to various beliefs and philosophies. The episode complained of was called War on Porn and was broadcast in English with Swedish subtitles.

Ofcom received a complaint from a Swedish viewer about the sexual content included in the programme. The viewer was particularly concerned that the programme was inappropriately scheduled before the watershed on a Saturday evening, when young children were likely to be watching.

The programme featured frequent, but brief, clips of adult sexual content. These included shots of men and women simulating sexual intercourse, women touching themselves and other women in a sexual manner, shots of naked breasts and footage of an adult industry convention - including shots of sex toys, such as dildos and whips.

The programme also contained varying levels of offensive language. It was broadcast in English with Swedish sub-titles. The original sound-track in English contained several uses of the word “fuck” together with references to “cunt” and “motherfucker.” It also featured milder language such as, “dick”,“tits”,“cock”, and “pissed”.

The English translation of the Swedish subtitles indicated that they also included references to the word “fuck” and “cunt”, together with references to milder language, such as “cock” and “tits.”

Viasat said with regard to the offensive language featured in the programme, the broadcaster pointed out that although the language is offensive in English the same words are not regarded as offensive in Swedish. It stated that, although English offensive language is used throughout the programme, the majority of this offensive language was either not translated into Swedish or translated into mild or inoffensive language in the subtitles. Viasat also highlighted that the broadcast of offensive language in Sweden is not restricted to post-watershed programmes, and the viewer expectations of a Swedish audience are different from those of an English speaking audience. Viasat therefore believed the programme was suitable for the time of broadcast with regard to language.

Concerning the sexual content, however, Viasat acknowledged that the scheduling of the programme was in breach of its compliance procedures.

Ofcom Decision

Ofcom recognises that Swedish audiences may have different expectations regarding the use of offensive language before the watershed. However, Viasat is a broadcaster licensed by Ofcom and therefore it is required to comply with its licensing obligations in the United Kingdom . This includes ensuring that all of its broadcast output complies with the Code. Rule 1.14 of the Code states unequivocally that the most offensive language must not be broadcast before the watershed… Ofcom therefore concluded that the broadcast of “fuck” and “cunt” before the watershed was clearly unacceptable.

Ofcom noted Viasat's acknowledgement that the programme was broadcast at an inappropriate time and so also found Viasat in breach of rules on that score too.


27th January   

Update: Propaganda Street...

Beat: Life on the Street TV programme confirmed as government propaganda
Link Here

Beat: Life on the Street
ITV1, Series 1: 29 October - 3 December 2006, 18:00.
Series 2: 27 January - 2 March 2008, 18:00

Beat: Life on the Street is an observational documentary series about the work of Police Community Support Officers (“PCSOs”) in Oxford and Lancashire.

The series was fully funded by the Home Office.

Two complainants, who became aware of the Home Office’s involvement with the series following press reports, objected that the programmes were essentially government “propaganda” and the Home Office’s relationship with the series should have been made clear to viewers.

Ofcom considered:

  • Rule 9.4 – a sponsor must not influence the content and/or scheduling of a programme in such a way as to impair the responsibility and editorial independence of the broadcaster.
  • Rule 9.5 – there must be no promotional reference to the sponsor, its name, trademark, image, activities, services or products or to any of its other direct or indirect interests. There must be no promotional generic references. Nonpromotional references are permitted only where they are editorially justified and incidental.
  • Rule 9.7 - The relationship between the sponsor and the sponsored programme must be transparent.

Channel Television (“Channel TV”), which complied the programmes on behalf of ITV
Network, confirmed that the Home Office fully funded the series. The sponsorship
was arranged through the Central Office of Information (“COI”). The programmes
were made by an independent production company, TwoFour Productions.

Ofcom Decision: Breach of Rules 9.5 and 9.7

A sponsored programme is a programme that has had some or all of its costs met by the sponsor with a view to promoting its own or another’s name, trademark, image, activities, services, products or any other direct or indirect interest.

There is no evidence to suggest that the sponsor influenced the content of the programme so as to undermine the independence of the broadcaster and, as such, we do not find the series in breach of Rule 9.4.

Ofcom judged that overall the series portrayed the PCSOs and the contribution they made to communities in a positive light. There were several elements in the programmes that contributed to this overall positive tone, including interviews with serving officers, who talked in detail about why they enjoyed their role.

Ofcom considered that the overriding tone of the programmes was supportive and likely to leave viewers with a favourable impression of the PCSO service. Taking into account the fact that the Home Office sponsored these series, and that the PCSO service is at least an indirect interest of the Home Office, Ofcom therefore considered that these references within the programmes were promotional, in breach of Rule 9.5.

Ofcom noted that the message displayed on screen during the credits immediately preceding the programme contained the text: Let’s Keep Crime Down, and the strapline Keep It Safe, Keep it Hidden - In Association with Beat: Life on the Street. We considered these credits, broadcast at the start and end of each programme would have notified viewers that the programmes were sponsored. However, the text did not tell viewers who the sponsor was.

Ofcom judged that the Home Office’s role and relationship with the series, as its sponsor, was not made sufficiently clear. While a small, inconspicuous Home Office logo was displayed in the top right hand corner of the screen for a very brief period at the end of the sponsor credits, Ofcom considered that the sponsorship arrangement was not made transparent since the size of its text and the brevity of the logo’s appearance on screen meant it was likely to have been missed by viewers.

In Ofcom’s view, the relationship between the sponsored programme and the Home Office’s role as its sponsor was therefore not made transparent to the audience, in breach of Rule 9.7.


27th January   

Rapper Unrapped...

Ofcom finds background Qur'anic verses to be not in breach
Link Here
Full story: Ofcom on Religion...ofcom keep religious extremism in check

Steve Sutherland
Galaxy Birmingham, 29 November 2008, 21:55

Ofcom received 229 complaints concerning a track by the rap artist, Busta Rhymes, included in the Steve Sutherland programme.

The track, Arab Money , included the repeated recitation of a segment from the Qur’an. The complainants considered the inclusion of the Qur’anic verses to be offensive and blasphemous. There was evidence that some of the complaints were part of an orchestrated campaign.

Ofcom noted that within the track the following words were heard (in Arabic) on a number of occasions. This was a quotation from the opening verses of the Qur’an: In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful: All Praise is due to God, Lord of the Universe .

Ofcom considered Rule 2.3 (material that may cause offence must be justified by the context).

Ofcom Decision

The Code does not make a judgement as to whether content might be blasphemous in the eyes of followers of particular religions. Broadcasters are free to include treatments, in whatever form, of aspects of any religion, as long as they comply with the Code.

However, Ofcom must judge whether a broadcaster applied generally accepted standards by ensuring that members of the public were given adequate protection from offensive material.

Ofcom acknowledged that this material may have been challenging and upsetting to certain members of the Muslim community. Ofcom noted the immediate and extensive steps taken by the broadcaster to apologise for any unintentional offence caused by the broadcasting of the material in this case.

However, when reaching a decision as to whether this material breached the Code, Ofcom must take into account the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression.

The Code places no restrictions on the subjects covered by broadcasters, or the manner in which such subjects are treated, so long as offensive material that is broadcast is justified by the context. In this case, a quotation from a sacred text was added as a backdrop to a song by a well-known rap artist, who, it is reported, is a follower of Islam.

The track was being played on a station specialising in contemporary black music, and Ofcom noted that the practice of sampling content from a diverse range of sources is common in this genre of music. Furthermore, the Qur’anic quotation in this case, was not directly referred to or commented upon in the other lyrics of the song.

The inclusion of these words could be classed as a cultural reference within the song, rather than being included for theological reasons. Just because a quotation from a sacred text is included within a song does not in itself constitute a breach of generally accepted standards.

Ofcom considered that the large majority of the audience would, in general, have not considered the material to be beyond what would normally be expected in a programme of this type, on this particular station.

Given this, the time of broadcast, and the likelihood that the degree of offence from these comments to the audience overall would be limited, Ofcom considered that the broadcast of this offensive material was, on balance, justified by the context.

Therefore, the programme was not in breach of Rule 2.3.


14th January   

Axing Strong Language...

Ofcom have their regular whinge about strong language that sneaks in during the day
Link Here

Axe Men
Five, 19 September 2008, 20:00

Axe Men is a factual programme which looks at the high risk, day-to-day work of different logging companies in the north west of the USA. One viewer complained to Ofcom that the programme contained various forms of bad language, including “mother fucker”.

After viewing the broadcast, Ofcom noted that the programme did not include the word mother fucker . However, it did include one use of the expletive fuck . Ofcom considered Rule 1.14 (the most offensive language must not be broadcast before the watershed) of the Code.

Rule 1.14 prohibits the broadcast of the most offensive language before the watershed. Ofcom research on offensive language1 identified that fuck and its derivatives were considered by viewers to be very offensive. Ofcom notes that broadcast of the word on this occasion resulted from human error and that Five has made changes to improve its compliance as a result. However, the broadcast of such language before the 21:00 watershed is a breach of Rule 1.14.

N*E*R*D Special
MTV Hits, 5 October 2008, 17:30

MTV Hits is a music channel available on satellite and cable platforms. N*E*R*D Special was a recording of a thirty minute live performance by the urban band, N*E*R*D.

One viewer complained that the programme contained the repeated use of strong and racist language in the early evening on a Sunday afternoon. On reviewing a recording of the material provided by MTV Networks Europe (MTVNE), which complies the channel, Ofcom noted that the programme contained several examples of the following strong language: fuck , mother fucker and nigger .

Ofcom welcomes the fact that MTVNE admitted the compliance error on being notified by Ofcom of the complaint and tightened up compliance procedures still further as a result. The repeated use of the most offensive words language before the watershed in this instance was, however, a clear breach of Rule 1.14.

In general, offensive material can be broadcast, so long as it is justified by the context. Given factors such as the time of broadcast, the effect that the material might have had on viewers who may have come across the material unaware, and the lack of any warning to viewers, Ofcom considered that the broadcast of this offensive material in the early evening was not justified by the context. It was therefore a breach of generally accepted standards and Rule 2.3 was also breached.

Ofcom views these breaches of the Code very seriously, especially in light of the recent MTV Sanction. However, given the swift and comprehensive action MTVNE took in the wake of these breaches, coupled with the overall bolstering of compliance procedures already in train, Ofcom does not consider it appropriate, on this occasion, to take further regulatory action. However, Ofcom is putting MTVNE on notice of its concerns about its compliance abilities in the wake of this decision.


13th January   

Go On, Give us Another One...

Ofcom not offended by Jesus conjuring trick of turning water into wine
Link Here

We Are Most Amused
ITV1, 15 November 2008, 20:35

We Are Most Amused was a special comedy gala performance held to mark the sixtieth birthday of the Prince of Wales. The show included many of the UK’s leading comedians.

Ofcom received 540 complaints concerning a sketch, included in the programme, featuring Rowan Atkinson. In the sketch, Rowan Atkinson played a Christian clergyman delivering a comedic version of a biblical miracle story – the Wedding Feast at Cana.

The complainants considered the sketch to be offensive and blasphemous, and some complainants questioned whether a similar sketch would be permissible if the subject had been one of the world’s other religions, such as Islam. There was evidence that the complaints were part of an orchestrated campaign. [Stephen Green's Christian Voice being previously noted as organising such a campaign]

Playing the clergyman, Rowan Atkinson delivered the sketch as if reciting from the bible to a congregation. He described Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding feast at Cana, and said:

And when the steward of the feast did taste of the water from the pots, it had become wine. And he knew not whence it had come. But the servants did know, and they applauded loudly in the kitchen. And they said unto the Lord: ‘How the hell did you do that?’ And inquired of him: ‘Do you do children’s parties?’ And the Lord said: ‘No.’ But the servants did press him, saying: ‘Go on, give us another one’.

Further on in the sketch, Ofcom noted there were the following passages:

…and he did place a large red cloth over the carrot and then removed it. And lo, he held in his hand a white rabbit. And all were amazed, and said: ‘This guy is really good; he should turn professional’. And there came unto him a woman called Mary…and Jesus said unto her: ‘Put on a tutu and lie down in this box’. And took he forth a saw and cleft her in twain.

…And he did go unto Jerusalem, and he did his full act before the Scribes, and the Pharisees, and the Romans. But alas, it did not please them in their hearts. In fact they absolutely crucified him.

Ofcom considered these complaints under Rule 2.3 (material that may cause offence must be justified by the context).

Ofcom Decision

Many complainants accused ITV of blasphemy. Ofcom is not required to determine whether the ITV committed blasphemy, but whether, in this case, the provisions of its Code had been breached.

Comedy has a long tradition of tackling challenging and sensitive subjects, such as religion. It is important and necessary, in line with freedom of expression, that broadcasters can explore such matters. Therefore broadcasters are free to include treatments, comedic or otherwise, of any religion, as long as they comply with the Code.

In particular, this was a comedy sketch, by a performer well-known for his depictions of clergymen in comedic situations. The sketch was an absurd interpretation of a well-known biblical miracle story, and was not intended as a serious interpretation of Christian belief, nor would it be realistic to make such an inference.

It superimposed onto the original story, the concept of how some people might react today, if Jesus were to appear in modern society. In making an analogy between miracles and magic, the comedian used the well-known comic device of placing theological figures in a contemporary and everyday human situation. The overall tone of the sketch was affectionate and not abusive of the Christian religion.

Ofcom considered that the approach would have been well understood by the vast majority of the audience and would not have gone beyond what would normally be expected in a programme of this type. Therefore, the programme was not in breach of Rule 2.3.


13th January   

Casualty Impaled by the TV Censor...

Hospital drama too traumatic for pre-watershed transmission
Link Here

BBC1, 13 September 2008, 20:20 to 21:10; and
14 September 2008, 20:00 to 21:00

Casualty is a long-running hospital drama set in the fictional city of Holby.

Five viewers complained to Ofcom that the first episode in the new series transmitted on Saturday 13 September 2008 contained images of a disturbing , violent , extremely graphic , shocking and disgusting nature that were unsuitable for the time of transmission. These included scenes of extreme injury and trauma where a nurse was impaled on a stake and a young woman hit by an ambulance and flung violently into the windscreen of an oncoming car.

13 September 2008, 20:20 to 21:10, Farmead Menace – Part One

In the last fifteen minutes or so of this episode, whilst pursuing an injured patient on a building site, a nurse, who is an established character in the series, falls over and becomes impaled on a spike. She remains conscious and in great distress in several scenes which follow showing her terrible situation: the spike has passed through her back and emerged through her abdomen. She is shown clutching the spike with her hands on her stomach while blood oozes from the wound. The patient, a young woman, who witnessed the accident, cold-heartedly uses the nurse’s mobile phone to film her suffering rather than call an ambulance. The patient then runs from the scene and is hit by an ambulance travelling at high speed. In a computer generated special effect, the viewer sees the girl flung through the air and smash into the windscreen of an oncoming car. She is then shown lying badly injured on the road.

14 September 2008, 20:00 to 21:00, Farmead Menace - Part Two

When this programme started at 20:00 it showed, pre-titles, a ‘teaser’ of the previous night’s programme which included brief clips of the nurse impaled on the stake and the accident involving the young woman. The programme itself featured riot scenes on a local estate where a group of young people aggressively taunted police and attacked cars and ambulances.

Ofcom considered Rules:

  • 1.3 (appropriate scheduling)
  • 1.4 (television broadcasters must observe the watershed)
  • 2.3 (in applying generally accepted standards broadcasters must ensure that material which may cause offence is justified by the context).

Ofcom Decision

Ofcom was concerned by the graphic nature of the repeated scenes of the nurse impaled on the stake who was obviously in great distress, and by the aggressive impact of the accident scene filmed from the perspective of the inside of the car that the young woman was flung into at high speed. Taken together, these two incidents occurred in the last ten minutes of the drama resulting in a sustained and concentrated run of distressing and shocking scenes.

Ofcom noted, and would expect that, children would be watching the television as part of a family group at this time on a Saturday evening. Audience data indicates that 397,000 children1 were watching this broadcast. Whilst the BBC has stated that it is inevitable that violence and trauma will feature significantly in Casualty and that it reviewed this material for pre-watershed transmission, two of the complainants stated that their children were distressed by what they saw on screen. In Ofcom’s view the explicit images of extreme trauma, distress and injury of the impaled nurse, and the computer generated images of the ambulance accident went beyond audience expectations regarding children in the audience who were not sufficiently protected from this material.

Ofcom noted that this broadcast straddled the 21:00 watershed, ending at 21:10. In these circumstances, and irrespective of the climactic effect broadcaster’s are trying to build up to, broadcasters must consider the need to protect adequately children who start watching such programmes before the watershed. This is because children and their parents may be unprepared for significantly stronger material at the end of a programme they had started to watch together as a family some time before 21:00.

In addition, Rule 2.3 requires that in applying generally accepted standards broadcasters must ensure that material which may cause offence is justified by the context. Ofcom considered that important aspects of the programme’s potentially traumatic and ongoing distressing content were not adequately conveyed to the audience in the information provided before the programme i.e. An explosive two-parter to kick-off the new series now on BBC1. Unbreakable, un-missable, this is Casualty . The audience was therefore not appropriately informed of what to expect in a programme whose transmission began 40 minutes before the watershed. Taking all the relevant contextual factors into account the broadcast of this material was not in Ofcom’ s view justified by the context. It was therefore in breach of Rule 2.3.

Ofcom concluded that this edition of the programme was in breach of Rules 1.3, 1.4,
and 2.3 of the Code.

Ofcom was concerned that the two images that were particularly strong in the previous night’s episode of Casualty (the nurse impaled on the spike and the computer generated image of the patient hit by the ambulance) were repeated in a pre-titles ‘teaser’ at the beginning of the second episode, albeit in the form of very brief clips. In addition, audience research indicated that 367,000 children were watching at this time. This is of concern to Ofcom given the programme’s start time one hour before the watershed.

Ofcom considered that this pre-titles ‘teaser’ was inappropriately scheduled at 20:00 having regard to the likely expectations of a family audience for BBC1 on a Sunday night. It was therefore in breach of Rule 1.3 and 1.4 of the Code.

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