Exam date

When's the 2016 exam? Wednesday 8th June, am.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

OfCom 2012 complaints overview

Reality shows, news and docs dominated the top 10 most complained about TV shows of 2012 (see here for a Guardian countdown of the 2011 top 100, here for 2010 (Mail) here for 2009 top 10 (Guardian)). OfCom has some support to take on the PCC as part of its portfolio in 2013, though the Tories are opposed to this so its unlikely to happen, but here's an outline of some major case studies involving OfCom in 2012.

Life is Bliss for Lorna, but not ITV
C5's Big Brother may have topped the OfCom list, but the X Factor (2nd on the 2012 list), which generally manages to feature high up on this annual list, remained high on the radar. It was widely accused of a fix, a complaint rejected by OfCom in November 2012 (remember, there was a huge 2008 scandal over TV phone-in competitions being fixed, leading to large OfCom fines and the BBC banning all competitions with prizes after being hit with a £400k fine [see also]). There was also the by now traditional complaints over saucy pre-watershed performances (this one, about a Britney impersonator Lorna Bliss, sparked 35 complaints - rejected as OfCom deemed it obviously comical). As I'll note below, the X Factor was also drawn into the major controversy that emerged late in 2012 over child protection issues.
Back in March it was guilty of pre-watershed swearing (Frankie Corcozza), and January saw controversy over Tulisa's on-arm advertising.

Child protection issues, which make for a great exam case study as this is such a pertinent issue for TV and press alike, with plentiful historical and contemporary cases (touching on the Royals too), were highlighted by OfCom as an issue requiring meetings with broadcasters to remind them of their responsibilities.
Broadcasters have been summoned to a meeting with media regulator Ofcom over concerns about the exploitation of children in programmes including I'm A Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here!.
All of the major broadcasters, including the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and BSkyB, have been called to a meeting in the new year to discuss their duty of care to under-18s as part of the rules under which they all broadcast.
The regulator will also carry out a programme of "spot check monitoring" of broadcasters' output to monitor that they are complying by the rules, it said. [from http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2012/dec/17/ofcom-summons-broadcasters-child-exploitation]
The BBC was censured for featuring a 13-year-old actor in violent, distressing scenes in its (excellent!) drama Line of Duty:
The BBC was guilty of a "serious lapse" in its duty of care for a 13-year-old actor who appeared in violent scenes in BBC2 drama Line of Duty, media regulator Ofcom has ruled.
Ofcom said programme-makers did not do enough to protect the child actor, who appeared in scenes in which he was headbutted and attempted to sever a policeman's fingers with pair of bolt-cutters.
The BBC said it was in "constant dialogue" with the teenager's parents who were content that he could cope with the emotional demands of the drama despite it being his first acting role.
But Ofcom, acting on a single complaint from a viewer, said the programme had breached broadcasting rules requiring that "due care must be taken over the physical and emotional welfare and the dignity of people under 18".
The regulator said 13-year-old Gregory Piper, who played character Ryan Pilkington, a child-runner for a violent criminal gang, had appeared in scenes which were "of a particularly violent nature and included sexually explicit language". [from http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2012/dec/17/bbc-line-of-duty-child-actor]
There was hoopla over Dick + Dom
The BBC were also investigated over an eating contest in kids' TV show Dick and Dom, in which a young participant retched, which came close on the heels of 35 complaints over an X Factor audition which featured footage of two teens clearly mortified at the terrible audition by their mother:
Ofcom is also investigating the show to see whether the competition may have broken rules relating to generally accepted content standards.
Under this rule Ofcom will investigate whether the show may have caused offence on grounds such as distress, humiliation and violation of human dignity.
In September Ofcom launched an investigation on similar grounds into The X Factor performance of Alison Brunton, who delivered an embarassingly bad rendition of Lady Gaga's hit The Edge of Glory.
Brunton's children – a 14-year-old girl and 16-year-old boy – were repeatedly shown looking horrified and humiliated by their mother's appearance on the show. Guest judge Mel B described the audition as "horrific". [from http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2012/dec/04/ofcom-investigate-bbc-child-eating]
You could usefully contrast this stance with the OfCom ruling over Sky News' notorious Kay Burley, previously accused of explicit political bias in her reporting, cleared of causing distress in a report over a missing person

Once revered now reviled
Lets not forget either that this was the year in which the BBC was severely rocked (to the joy of its right-wing foes, who managed to overlook their own failure on this very issue) by the appearance of blocking a Newsnight report into accusations that Jimmy Saville was a serial paedophile to safeguard a celebratory show already completed (the £2m [13,000 license fees!] Pollard Report found this wasn't the case). Here's a timeline. Roy Greenslade links to many of the press articles on this - even the cenre-left press weren't impressed with the BBC, the Mirror slamming it as a shambles. The Guardian was also scathing. Public opinion was little different: a poll reported that 49% of the public trusted the BBC less as a result of the scandal. This could be a major story still in 2013 as the poor handling of it by the BBC has reinforced calls for OfCom or some other regulator to take over complete responsibility for regulation of the BBC (OfCom currently oversees issues of taste and decency).

Note the stark contrast with the PCC here: not only had the actor's parents not complained, they'd actually made clear they had no issue with this - as did the actor - yet OfCom still acted after a single third-party complaint. OfCom's December 2012 bulletin carries the detailed ruling, plus a section headed Note to Broadcasters: The involvement of people under eighteen in proigrammes. As they reminded broadcasters:
Section one of the Ofcom broadcasting code states that "due care must be taken over the physical and emotional welfare of people under 18 ... irrespective of any consent given by the participant or by a parent, guardian or other person".
It goes on to state that people under 18 "must not be caused unnecessary distress or anxiety by their involvement in programmes or by the broadcast of those programmes".
The regulator said in a statement on Monday: "Ofcom reminds all broadcasters very strongly that, not only must they have robust procedures in place to ensure their compliance with rules 1.28 and 1.29 of the code, but they must also ensure that those procedures are adherred to at all times." [quoted from http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2012/dec/17/ofcom-summons-broadcasters-child-exploitation]

It wasn't just the major terrestrial broadcasters under fire for their lax policies on protecting children in 2012, other digital channels also came under fire, such as this NBC-Universal subsidiary:
Ofcom has fined NBC Universal-owned channel E! Entertainment £40,000 for broadcasting episodes of Girls of the Playboy Mansion when children were likely to be watching TV.
The media regulator has decided to fine the channel in part because it has previously broken the UK broadcasting code for airing two other programmes during the day that were unsuitable for showing before the 9pm watershed.
In the latest case E! Entertainment aired consecutive episodes of Girls of the Playboy Mansion during the day on 27 December, the festive season when children and families are on holiday and frequently watch daytime TV.
Ofcom said the Christmas holiday period is also a time when a lot of children watch TV alone, making the scheduling of the episodes a breach of rule 1.3 of the broadcasting code, which aims to protect children from inappropriate content.
The media regulator took a dim view of the breach, given that it follows a previous sanction over two shows that used "the most offensive language" being broadcast before the watershed. [from http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2012/nov/16/ofcom-fines-e-entertainment]
Love Shaft: judged unsuited for T4's youth audience
C4 was also censured for repeating Love Shaft during its morning T4 youth strand in November.
Porn was raised as an issue - again (4 channels were closed in 2010 for making material accessible to children). What is also noteworthy here is the international aspect: the stations in question in 2012 were Dutch-owned and operated, and so OfCom turned to the Dutch regulators for help on content viewed by UK children:
Ofcom has complained to the Dutch media regulator about the content of adult chat channels Babestation and Smile TV, which are licensed in the Netherlands but broadcast to millions of Freeview households in the UK overnight and can be easily accessed by children in their bedrooms.
The UK media regulator said that " this is an important issue, and active discussions are under way" with Commissariaat voor de Media (Dutch media authority), the country's content licensing body, to see how British audiences can be protected from scenes of near naked women massaging each other's breasts, masturbating and faking orgasms.
Babestation and Smile TV broadcast free to air on digital terrestrial TV service Freeview between 10pm and 6am. Adult channels feature in two blocks on the Freeview electronic programme guide, 93-98 and 190-198.
Ofcom has previously revoked the broadcast licences of adult pay-TV channels including Tease Me for repeatedly airing material that was too sexually explicit for pre-watershed hours. [from http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2012/mar/07/freeview-porn-ofcom-action]

Here's the 2012 top 10 (from the Mail):


1. Big Brother (2,088)
2. The X Factor Results (1,488)
3. This Morning (811)
4. True Stories: Gypsy Blood (509)
5. Live: The Silent Ascent (378)
6. Sky News (364)
7. The X Factor (305)
8. Islam: The Untold Story (293)
9. Citizen Khan (256)
10. Keith Lemon's LemonAid (246)
Total complaints throughout the year: 16,666

Does regulation ignoring social media make sense anymore?
One of the more remarkable stories of the year came from that hotbed of political news ... This Morning, in which presenter Phillip Schofield handed PM Cameron live on air a letter with the name of the supposed Tory paedophile widely circulated on Twitter. This quickly turned out to be a case of mistaken identity at best, and Lord McAlpine, the senior Tory named, has since launched legal proceedings against not just press and broadcasters but also individual Twitter users - including the Speaker's wife, Sally Bercow, one of many 1,000s to name McAlpine online. Here's Roy Greenslade on why he agrees with McAlpine's legal action. The BBC swiftly agreed to pay him £185k in compensation after he was named in a Newsnight broadcast.
This is a great story for showing how regulators face the complexity of ruling on TV stories which are being developed online. Its similar in some regards to the whole issue of superinjunctions (useful Wiki), which have meant that press/broadcasters were initially unable to identify Ryan Giggs, Jeremy Clarkson or BBC political presenter Andrew Marr as having had affairs, even while millions read/shared the names/details online through social network sites. Read more Guardian articles about superinjunctions here.

Guardian writer Ben Dowell argued that despite the hype (often generated by the right-wing press, for whom moral panics are a central component of their daily output and the ideology they express), there is less 'horrific' violence on UK TV now than 10 years ago:
What are we to make of August's Ofcom research, gleefully reported in the Mail, that a third of TV viewers believe our screens have too much violence and swearing? Is British TV drama really getting more brutal and vicious? Or has it been ever thus? I believe the latter – and here's why.
Imports are one thing, but in terms of homegrown drama, I'd argue that perhaps the most horrific moment occurred a full 10 years ago when a new BBC1 spy drama exploded into life with the dunking of a woman's head in a fryer full of sizzling chip fat. That tasty scene from the first series of Spooks (it was Lisa Faulkner's administrative officer Helen Flynn, if you recall, who met this unpleasant end) has gone down in legend. Despite thousands of complaints and regulatory intervention, it announced a show that went on to be one of the most successful drama series in BBC history.
Other broadcasters do their bit too – C4's The Fear had its near-the-knuckle moments but ITV's bloodiest heyday has long gone. For my money it has never really served up stronger meat than Wire in the Blood, which finished more than five years ago or Taggart, which started in 1983. Home-produced TV from the 1980s and 1990s was if anything, more violent than what we have now.
The BBC's controller of drama commissioning, Ben Stephenson, says that he has not been "shocked in a bad way" by anything he has seen on TV. ... He says that the BBC never discusses how violent a drama should be. "It is always about the integrity of the storytelling and whether what is in the script underscores the emotion."
None of the top 10 most complained about programmes to Ofcom in 2012 were dramas (Big Brother was No 1). And when people do complain about dramatic violence it is quite often not when humans are on the receiving end. The most complained about moment in BBC2 thriller The Shadow Line (which had its moments) was the submersion of a cat in a barrel of water. In South Riding, the 2011 period drama, the CGI recreation of a horse falling off a cliff also drew one of the biggest complaint logs of the year.
For my money, perhaps the most shocking thing about our TV drama is what actually seems to shock people. [from http://www.guardian.co.uk/tv-and-radio/tvandradioblog/2012/dec/31/violence-tv-drama-ripper-street]

The Mail polices broadcasters/provides outraged readers with such 'stories'
2012 also saw Matthew Wright investigated for anti-handicapped discrimination (he was cleared), Frankie Boyle's Tramadol Nights on C4 raising complaints of racism (Boyle won £54,650 libel damages from the Mirror which had labelled him racist - he/C4 was censured by OfCom in 2011 for jokes broadcast in December 2010 about Katie Price's handicapped son - although as a frothing Mail reported, Price was unhappy and labelled OfCom toothless) [here's Mencap's report] and Big Fat Gypsy Wedding once again accused of racism. It ended not just with the press-hyped Graham Norton 'controversy'/moral panic, but also a press-hyped/manufactured 'outcry' over C4's Big Fat Quiz of the Year, specifically a joke about the queen. This drew a whole 10 complaints 24 hours after it broadcast, swelling to 160 after the Mail made it a front-page splash: Channel 4 and the sick show they call comedy. If you care to follow the link to the Mail's own website, you'll find in no way hypocritical 'stories' on its notorious (but hugely successful in attracting visitors) right-hand column such as Pictured: The moment Sofia Vergera accidentally exposes her breast. C4 is seen as a broadcaster with a liberal or lefty bias, making it another common target of right-wing press 'outrage'.
C4 News turned the tables on MacKenzie
In an amusing case, C4 was cleared by OfCom of breaching one-time Sun editor and still tabloid-cheerleader Kelvin MacKenzie's privacy, treating him to the doorstepping treatment he always declared fine as a tabloid man.  C4's website has a good report on the controversy this stirred up.
Julian Assange lost his complaint against a More4 doc about the Wikileaks founder (as he had with 45 PCC complaints over press articles).
Like Frankie Boyle, Jeremy Clarkson is no stranger to complaints, and he was censured over a joke based on facial disfigurements - note that this was by the BBC Trust, NOT OfCom, making it a useful case.
The BBC Trust has ruled that Jeremy Clarkson's joke comparing a Japanese car to the Elephant Man was offensive to people with facial disfigurements, and criticised Top Gear's production team for a "regrettable lapse of editorial judgment".
Clarkson's comparison of a Prius car/camper van hybrid to "people with growths on their faces", in an edition of BBC2's Top Gear broadcast in February, prompted 137 complaints to the BBC.
Its nice to know that OfCom consider this a worse offence than 'joking' about shooting dead striking teachers in front of their children, in a peak-time pre-watershed family show - back in February Clarkson was cleared by OfCom after 30,000 complaints about his rather vile rant on the One Show.

October saw religious channel Praise TV lose its license for providing false info about who actually controlled the channel. In the Guardian's comment is free section (ie, not reflecting the paper's editorial line), Geoffrey Alderman argued this was deplorable - and OfCom directly responded in turn. Guardian veteran Peter Preston also argued the case against closure. Back in January Press TV, with its Iranian links, lost its license (OfCom summary). If you scroll down to 2004, when 3 shopping channels were closed, you can find other examples of TV stations whose licenses were revoked by OfCom in this useful Wiki of defunct UK TV stations.
Roy Greenslade called for hyper-local TV stations to be made exempt from OfCom regulation in August, an interesting case that blurs the line between the web and TV. The plans for these new licenses have been mired in confusion, and remain so. The BBC's Freeview broadcast license was extended to 2026, though the main commercial PSB licenses (ITV, C4, C5) which run out in 2014 are still subject to debate over the terms of their 10-year extension.
As mentioned above, there have been previous closures over the issue of children able to access Freeview pay-TV porn stations (4 closed in 2010).

C5 was censured in July for breaching the editorial code: The Myleene Klass Show effectively promoted a cereal brand in an advertorial style. C4 had likewise been censured for blurring the lines between editorial and advertising content in May, with its exclusive airing of the Promotheus trailer during an ad-break - but with the C4 logo and with a C4 announcer urging the audience to buy tickets. In a novel ruling, which may become more common, the Twitter tie-in for this was also criticised by OfCom:
Ofcom received a complaint that the promotion totally confused the viewer about whether they were watching an impartial continuity announcement or a paid advertisement.
The regulator agreed, telling Channel 4 it had concerns that the distinct voice of the announcer, the broadcaster's logo and language used in the advert suggested the channel's ownership and endorsement of the material.
"In Ofcom's view, such viewer interaction is more commonly associated with television programmes than with advertising," the regulator said. "We consider that the presentation style of the Prometheus material risked confusing viewers in respect of it status."
With regard to the Twitter element of the campaign, Ofcom concluded that it might have been unclear to viewers whether they were watching a selection of tweets selected for editorial reasons by Channel 4 or for advertising purposes.
Channel 4 defended the promotion, arguing that there was a clear contrast between the channel identification and the start of a commercial break.
However, Ofcom responded that: "Simply because material appears in a break between programmes is not sufficient to identify it as advertising."
Channel 4 said that the campaign had received approval by Clearcast, which pre-vets TV ads to give advice on whether there are likely to be any issues with the advertising code.
The broadcaster added that changes to the broadcast code of advertising practice – the rules which govern TV ads – could lead to possible confusion over what broadcasters needed to do to adequately distinguish between editorial programming and advertising airtime. [from http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2012/oct/22/channel-4-criticised-ofcom-prometheus-promotion; emphasis added]
Back in January the X Factor's Tulisa was found to have also blurred that line (one charge cleared, one found guilty).

It was of course the year of Leveson, with some commentators wondering why on earth we continued to separate press and broadcast regulation, as Dan Sabbagh does here:

Richard Desmond must be rather bored with everybody else talking about the "Desmond problem", which may be why he is so unimpressed by the topless lese-majesty adopted by his half-owned Irish Daily Star. But as the Leveson debate enters its increasingly testy final phase, what would happen if the pornographer turned media mogul wanted to merge the Daily Express and Star newsrooms with Channel 5's news offerings? Who then would be the regulator – Ofcom or the Leveson-approved Press Complaints Commission (PCC)? Maybe the increasingly efficient journalists would have to remember two sets of rules at once. (No one should be deluded, by the way, that broadcasting is invariably more bureaucratic: anyone who thinks that hasn't been handed an application form for permission to use subterfuge under clause 10 of the editors' code).
Anyway, so much for private grief, the essential point is that in Britain, as Leveson draws to a close and a communications white paper looms, we persist in the belief that newspapers and broadcast news must be regulated separately. And online-only news providers probably ought not to be regulated at all. But what's curious is that in Australia, where they are well ahead of us, they are no longer prepared to accept the traditional distinction. [from http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2012/sep/23/leveson-single-regulator-news]
Even the pro-Tory Telegraph saw Hunt as a Murdoch stooge
In June James Murdoch was declared a fit and proper person to run a TV network - but only just, and OfCom were scathingly critical of him. OfCom also called for regular reviews of media plurality as part of their response to the controversy over Murdoch's attempt to take over the remaining 60% of BSkyB shares - but said Parliament should set a specific limit to cross-media ownership, not OfCom.
I have to say that pre-2010 (election and Tories coming to power committed to scrapping OfCom) I'm certain OfCom would have been much more proactive and confident in how they handled this, a clear sign (I think!) of how OfCom has stepped back from its once highly energetic, proactive stance as a regulator. Back in January 2012 it called for regulators to include all media in their rulings, though took care to avoid the logical conclusion that this means a beefed-up OfCom taking on the PCC's job:

"For the avoidance of doubt, we do not think that Ofcom should regulate the press," Richards added. "Over time, and quite quickly in some cases, the difference between 'video on demand' content and that of increasingly video-rich digital 'newspapers' may well diminish. We might be able to offer some assistance from what we have found to be necessary for regulation to be effective."
He argued that there is a "degree of commonality" between different forms of media that could provide the basis for an over-arching regulatory system in areas such as accuracy, privacy, protecting vulnerable people and crime.
"A set of core principles could be established between the regulators that emerge from the current debate," he said. "They might aim to articulate the minimum standards which we would like to see in the UK." [from http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2012/jan/25/ofcom-regulatory-regime]
Right-wing Guido Fawkes blog's take on Richards
OfCom chief executive Ed Richards was in the running (he was amongst bookies favourite to get the job before Entwistle) to replace the hapless Entwistle as BBC director general, but, as Dan Sabbagh argued, he never stood a chance as (despite, I think, being clearly the best qualified) he has historic links to Labour. OfCom infuriated Sky by arguing its monopoly over films on TV needed challenging. Months before that speculation arose, Jeremy Hunt somehow held on to his job as Culture Secretary despite seemingly damning revelations of his close links with News Corp and the Murdochs, attracting widespread incredulity and criticism. Other broadcasters also cried foul over his department's lack of even-handedness (a legal requirement). There was political division over the issue, with the backbench Culture Select Committee split between Tories voting to block criticisms of the Murdochs, and Labour/Lib Dem MPs voting to include them.
Peter Preston has written a useful article attacking the nature of appointments to regulators, arguing they're consistently linked to political parties and taken from a very, very narrow sphere (the 'great and the good').

Forget politics and ideology ... as ever, animal welfare was behind many complaints, as in May with the prize of a dog on ITV's Lemonaid.
Back to politics and ideology, and an unusual case which touches on wider laws around 'hate speech' - I can find no reference at this stage on whether DM Digital has yet been closed (though see its legally challenged previous OfCom censures):
A British TV channel that aired a lecture saying it is acceptable to murder someone who has shown disrespect to the prophet Muhammad is facing a significant fine or potentially even closure by Ofcom.
Ofcom has taken the unprecedented step of ruling that DM Digital, which targets the Asian market with programming in languages including English, Punjabi, Urdu, Kashmiri and Hindi, is the first UK broadcaster to break the broadcasting code for airing material "likely to encourage or incite the commission of a crime or lead to disorder".
Because of the serious nature of the breach of the code Ofcom said that it is now considering imposing a statutory sanction, and the media regulator's sanctions committee will now consider options including fining DM Digital or even revoking the company's broadcast licence. [from http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2012/may/09/ofcom-close-tv-station-condoning-murder-blasphemy]
Worth mentioning too the slackness of the ITV doc that presented game footage as documentary footage of the IRA (Exposure, broadcast Sept 2011, ruling Jan 2012).
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