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Broadcast Bulletin Issue number 121 - 10|11|08

DM Digital Television Limited, Premium rate services promoted in programme content, Good Morning Manchester, “Shine a Light” competition, Dickinson’s Real Deal, Ayurvedic Nature Cure Sponsorship, Scott Mills, After You’ve Gone, Aalim Online, Complaints by Mr Nicholas Beardshaw/Mrs Michaela Beardshawint and Mr Glenn Swallow

Standards Cases

Notice of Sanction

DM Digital Television Limited
Health is Wealth, DM Digital, 8 March 2007, 07:45

On 28 October 2008, Ofcom published its decision to impose a statutory sanction on DM Digital Television Limited in respect of its service DM Digital. The sanction was for breaches of the following Code Rules:

  • Rule 2.1 (generally accepted standards must be applied to the contents of television services so as to provide adequate protection for the public from harmful material);
  • Rule 9.4 (sponsor must not influence content);
  • Rule 9.5 (no promotional reference to sponsor);
  • Rule 9.6 (clear identification of sponsorship by name/logo); and
  • Rule 9.7 (sponsorship relationship must be transparent).

Ofcom found that these Rules were breached as follows:

  • During the programme Health is Wealth, a homeopathic practitioner, Dr Professor Mohammed Jamil Jilu (“Dr Jamil”), was allowed to make unsubstantiated and potentially dangerous claims regarding the ability of his homeopathic treatments to cure cancer and other serious illnesses, such as diabetes and hepatitis. This could have resulted in viewers with treatable serious medical problems choosing to dispense with orthodox medical treatment in favour of Dr Jamil’s treatments. This risked serious harm to viewers (breach of Rule 2.1);
  • Dr Jamil was the sponsor of Health is Wealth and had entirely determined the content of the programme. The channel’s editorial independence had therefore been compromised (breach of Rule 9.4);
  • The programme was used to promote Dr Jamil’s homeopathic health clinic and associated treatments and services (breach of Rule 9.5); and
  • The programme’s sponsorship and the relationship between the sponsor and the programme were not made clear to viewers (breach of Rules 9 .6 and 9.7).

For the reasons set out in the adjudication Ofcom imposed a financial penalty of £15,000 on DM Digital Television Ltd (payable to HM Paymaster General) and directed it to broadcast a statement of Ofcom’s findings in a form to be determined by Ofcom on two specified occasions. The full adjudication is available at: http://www.ofcom.org.uk/tv/obb/ocsc_adjud/dmdigital.pdf

There are two further cases in this bulletin (see pages 5-7) where Ofcom has recorded breaches of the Code in respect of DM Digital. Ofcom has very serious concerns about this Licensee and its compliance ability. Ofcom is requiring DM Digital to attend a meeting at Ofcom. Any further breaches of the Broadcasting Code will be taken extremely seriously and in such circumstances Ofcom will consider further and greater regulator action.


In Breach

Premium rate services promoted in programme content
DM Digital, various dates in 2007

Introduction

On 17 January 2008 , PhonepayPlus recorded breaches of its Code of Practice against a premium rate service provider in respect of a live tarot premium rate telephone service promoted in a programme broadcast on DM Digital on various dates in 2007. These breaches related to not holding the correct prior permission certificate for a live tarot service, keeping callers on hold for lengthy periods of time and lack of clear on-screen pricing information. PhonepayPlus fined the service provider £25,000.

Rule 10.10 of the Code requires that any use of premium rate numbers must comply with the Code of Practice issued by PhonepayPlus (formerly known as ICSTIS).

Response

In response to Ofcom’s inquiries, the broadcaster advised that it had taken specific compliance steps to ensure that the problems identified by PhonepayPlus did not occur again.

Decision

Notwithstanding the broadcaster’s assurances, Ofcom was concerned that the broadcaster had failed to ensure sufficient oversight of premium rate services (“PRS”) promoted within its programmes and to understand its own responsibilities regarding those services. Ofcom also noted that viewers calling the tarot service were kept on hold for lengthy periods of time and suffered financial loss. Since the use of PRS in this case did not comply with the PhonepayPlus Code there was a breach of Rule 10.10.

This is a serious breach of the Code and will be held on record.

Breach of Rule 10.10 of the Code


Good Morning Manchester
DM Digital, 11 & 12 February 2008, 08:00

Introduction

Good Morning Manchester is a weekday live interactive morning programme, which includes extended interviews and a regular feature concerning general health and wellbeing issues. The premium rate number for viewers to call if they wish to participate in the programme is displayed on screen throughout the programme.

On 11 and 12 February 2008 , the programme’s two presenters interviewed a herbalist and homeopath, Hakeem Shafqat Ali Shah, who also gave general advice to callers. Throughout the extended interview a large banner was displayed on screen intermittently, stating Mr Shah’s contact details (mobile and landline telephone numbers and full postal address). These details also appeared regularly in a scrolling caption at the bottom of the screen, which ran throughout the programmes.

A viewer asked Ofcom whether the display of such information was permissible.

When reviewing the broadcasts, Ofcom also noted the following:

  • one of the presenters stated Mr Shah’s full contact details on air;
  • Mr Shah invited a caller to contact him after the programme had ended; and
  • the on-screen scrolling caption included both programme-related messages and an advertising message (i.e. the promotion of sponsorship opportunities on DM Digital, including full contact details).

We therefore asked the broadcaster for its comments with regard to the following:

Code Rules

Rule 10.2 – “ Broadcasters must ensure that the advertising and programme elements of a service are kept separate

Rule 10.4 – “ No undue prominence may be given in any programme to a product or service”; and

Rule 10.5 – “ Product placement is prohibited” ;

Rules on the Amount and Distribution of Advertising (“RADA”[(-1-)])

Rule 1.2 – “In any one clock hour there must be no more than 12 minutes of advertising spots and/or teleshopping spots.”

Response

DM Digital said that it provided guests’ contact details on air “for certain topics”, as it was “beneficial to [its] audience and relevant to the editorial content of the programme.” The broadcaster added that, in this case, such information was “displayed with the guest’s name at intervals in order to not give undue prominence” and that Mr Shah “did not pay to be on the programme or to have his practice mentioned.”

With regard to the on-screen promotion of sponsorship opportunities on DM Digital, the broadcaster said that it did not believe the provision of its own contact details to be advertising content. It added that, in any event, the information was kept separate from the programme, as it ran in the scroll. The broadcaster confirmed that it generally broadcast between 9 and 12 minutes of advertising spots in any clock hour, adding that scrolled information did not generally contain advertising.

Decision

Generally, when introducing and/or interviewing a guest, it is editorially justified to explain their appearance in a programme. This might include, for instance, stating or describing their relevant expertise, or if appropriate briefly crediting the company or organisation they represent. However, in this case, after the presenters had introduced Mr Shah, the programme regularly provided viewers with his full contact details. These were not only mentioned by a presenter, but also intermittently displayed on-screen in a large banner and regularly scrolled across the screen. In addition, Mr Shah solicited a caller to contact him later.

Ofcom has a duty to ensure that programmes are not distorted for commercial purposes. We accept that a studio guest’s contact details may sometimes be useful for viewers and therefore editorially justified. For example, broadcasters can generally make a brief passing reference to such details being available on their own [channel] website, if it is editorially justified to do so. However, in this case, Ofcom can find no editorial justification for the regular and frequent provision of Mr Shah’s full contact details throughout the interviews. His services were therefore given undue prominence within the programmes, in breach of Rule 10.4 of the Code.

Ofcom notes the broadcaster’s view that the on-screen promotion of sponsorship opportunities on DM Digital was not advertising content. However, we disagree. A broadcaster promoting sponsorship opportunities is advertising. The licensee is advertising a service where a third party can promote its goods or services in return for payment. Programme sponsorship is a commercial opportunity, not only for potential sponsors but also for the broadcaster. As such, its promotion is advertising content, which should be clearly separated from programming. In this case, the permanent scroll (which ran throughout the programmes) featured not only programme-related messages (e.g. alternative premium rate numbers – for participation in the programme from other countries – and the promotion of the channel’s Valentine Special), but also DM Digital’s promotion of programme sponsorship opportunities ("For sponsorship contact +44… or email info@dmdigitaltv.co.uk… For Pakistan +92…" ) . The content of the scroll was therefore a mix of programme and advertising elements of DM Digital’s service, which were not clearly separated, in breach of Rule 10.2 of the Code.

The recordings provided by DM Digital did not contain the advertising breaks featured in or around Good Morning Manchester. Nevertheless, the broadcaster confirmed that less than 9 minutes of advertising spots were unlikely to occur in any clock hour of its output. In this case, given also the regular advertisement spots for DM Digital programme sponsorship opportunities contained in the on-screen scroll, it is clear that the broadcaster had included more than 12 minutes of advertising spots in the clock hour (08:00-09:00) during which the programmes were broadcast, in breach of Rule 1.2 of RADA.

Breach of Rules 10.2 and 10.4 of the Code

Breach of Rule 1.2 of RADA

Footnotes:

1.- Language and Sexual Imagery in Broadcasting: A Contextual Investigation (2005)

At the time of the broadcasts in question RADA was in force. On 1 September 2008, RADA was replaced by the Code on the Scheduling of Television Advertising (“COSTA” http://www.ofcom.org.uk/tv/ifi/codes/code_adv/tacode.pdf).


“Shine a Light” competition
The Morning After, Kerrang! Radio (West Midlands), 2 April 2008, 08:20

Introduction

During this breakfast show the presenter, Tim Shaw, ran a competition to win two tickets to attend the premiere in London (that evening) of the film “Shine a Light”, a feature-length documentary on the Rolling Stones. Listeners were invited to call a standard rate (0845…) telephone number for a chance to enter. They were told that the first listener to be put through to the studio and answer a question correctly would win the tickets. The presenter said that he wanted a Rolling Stones fan to win and his co-presenter then posed the question, “Where was Brian Jones born?” The first person aired, answered the question correctly, and was awarded the prize.

A complainant claimed that the presenter had planned to award the tickets to a friend, pre-recorded his ‘entry’ and played it ‘as live’, instead of running a genuine competition.

Rule 2.11 of the Code requires that “competitions should be conducted fairly…”. We therefore asked Bauer Radio, which runs Kerrang! Radio, for its comments on the matter.

Response

Bauer Radio (“Bauer” or “the broadcaster”) said that as soon as it had received the allegation from Ofcom it suspended the presenter, interviewed each employee connected with the competition (i.e. the presenter, the co-presenter and the programme’s producer) and visited the winner, to verify “an accurate record of events.”

The broadcaster said the presenter concerned was experienced but had admitted that he had run the competition as alleged. However, he had told Bauer that he believed he was “doing the right thing by rewarding a loyal and deserving listener”, who he knew both suffered from a chronic and debilitating illness and was a fan of the Rolling Stones.

Bauer said that the presenter had contacted the listener the day before the broadcast to let him know there would be a feature of interest to him the following morning. The presenter explained the mechanic of the competition to him but the listener said that, due to his medical condition, he was not confident that he would be able to respond quickly on air. To show the listener that he was capable of a quick response, the presenter decided to record him as if on air and play it back to him. However, this did not convince the listener. Wishing to give him the opportunity to win that he was denying himself, the presenter decided to play the recording on air the following morning, ‘as live’, pretending that he was the first caller to the studio. The presenter told Bauer that he had had no intention of using the recording unless the listener called on the day. However, after his co-presenter had asked the question, the presenter noted that no calls were lined up for selection and decided to play it. During playback he noticed two attempted calls but answered neither.

Bauer said that it had “rigorous compliance procedures in place to ensure that all … on-air staff are fully conversant with the Code rules.” This included “regular on-site training and refresher sessions [which the presenter had attended], circulars issued to all staff highlighting regulatory and compliance issues as they arise” and “comprehensive written guidance specifically about competitions, which included precise references to the requirement that all competitions must be conducted fairly and transparently...”, with a checklist to help ensure this.

Bauer said that the presenter had acted alone. His co-presenter was relatively inexperienced and had not realised what had happened. Also, while the programme’s producer had agreed the competition mechanic with the presenter the previous day, she had left the studio for a short period, during which the feature had been broadcast. Bauer noted that the presenter’s misguided actions had been well-intentioned. Nevertheless, it accepted that he had had considerable time to reflect on his proposed action after recording the output the previous day. Bauer was therefore extremely disappointed that a presenter of his experience should have “ignored or overlooked the rules and damaged the trust between broadcaster and audience.”

On 9 May 2008 Kerrang! Radio broadcast an apology hourly throughout daytime and the presenter was dismissed.

Decision

Broadcasters must at all times ensure that the audience is not misled as to the fair conduct of an audience competition. It is never acceptable for a presenter to intervene in the operation of a competition in a way likely to disadvantage any potential entrants. Broadcasters must therefore ensure that employees responsible for conducting competitions are fully aware of Code requirements and the specific issues of trust involved i.e. between broadcaster and audience, presenter and audience, and, as highlighted in this case, presenter and broadcaster.

In this instance, the broadcaster had clearly intended that tickets for the premiere of the film, “Shine a Light” were awarded as a competition prize and the presenter was aware of this. However well-intentioned the presenter’s intervention may have been in these particular circumstances, his decision to ensure a specific winner was not only in contravention of the competition’s terms and conditions, but was also a serious breach of trust with the audience.

Further, Ofcom noted that the presenter had also explained his decision to play the pre-recorded content on the basis that there were no other callers lined up at the time who could be put to air. However given that the time between the question being asked on air and the pre-recorded entry being broadcast was approximately 13 seconds, Ofcom considered that other listeners would not yet have had sufficient time to attempt to enter the competition, as evidenced by calls being lined up for selection after the presenter’s intervention.

The competition was therefore conducted unfairly, in breach of Rule 2.11 of the Code.

The breach of audience trust by the presenter intervening in the operation of a broadcast competition in this way – regardless of the circumstances in which it occurs – has the potential to cause considerable listener harm. Ofcom considered referring this case to the Content Sanctions Committee for the imposition of a statutory sanction. However, we noted that, on this occasion, consumer harm was limited, as no calls were answered. Further, on receiving the allegation made to Ofcom, the broadcaster took swift action to investigate fully and resolve the matter, including the regular broadcast of an appropriate apology. Nevertheless, Ofcom puts Kerrang! Radio on notice that it is likely to take further regulatory action in the event of any similar breach of Rule 2.11 of the Code.

Breach of Rule 2.11


Dickinson’s Real Deal
STV, 27 June 2008, 14:00

Introduction

Dickinson’s Real Deal is a daytime antique-themed programme broadcast on the ITV network and shown a week later on STV. Each edition includes a viewer competition to win the sum of money that a particular item fetches at auction. Entry is via a premium rate telephone number or text message.

During STV’s repeat broadcast of this programme, a caption was displayed across the bottom of the screen to advise viewers that the competition was closed. Two viewers complained that since the telephone number was still clearly legible and read out on air, and the line was in operation at the time of the repeat broadcast on STV (for the subsequent edition’s competition, broadcast simultaneously on ITV), the caption was insufficient to prevent viewers from attempting to enter that programme’s competition which had now, in fact, been concluded.

Ofcom asked STV for its comments under Rule 2.11 of the Code which states that “competitions should be conducted fairly” and “rules should be clear and appropriately made known”.

Response

STV explained that while it considered covering the full screen so that the telephone number was obscured, it opted for a significantly sized visual message which covered one quarter of the screen and stated “the competition is closed” to make it clear that the competition was indeed, closed. In its view, this sufficiently informed its audience that they should not call and as such, the fact the line was live did not create any issue of harm.

STV added that it has not received any complaints that suggested viewers had been misled.

Decision

Ofcom acknowledges the measures taken by the broadcaster to minimise the potential for viewers to suffer material harm. However, the guidance to Rule 2.11 advises that “text stating ‘pre-recorded’ is likely to be insufficient unless the telephone line is dead or the number on screen is illegible”,

While recognising that the advice “competition is closed” contained in the on-screen caption was more informative than merely indicating that the material was pre-recorded, Ofcom is concerned that the premium rate telephone line promoted for the programme’s competition was neither obscured nor inactive. It therefore considers that the caption may have been insufficient in preventing viewers from attempting to enter a concluded competition.

Ofcom expects all broadcasters to exercise extreme caution in the use of premium rate services in programmes.

Breach of Rule 2.11

Footnotes:

1.- Language and Sexual Imagery in Broadcasting: A Contextual Investigation (2005)

This guidance is available at http://www.ofcom.org.uk/tv/ifi/guidance/bguidance


Ayurvedic Nature Cure Sponsorship
Maru Gujarat, MATV, 20 August 2008, 19:00

Introduction

MATV provides a news and family entertainment service for the Asian community. During routine sampling of the channel’s output, it was noted that a sponsorship credit for the programme Maru Gujarat appeared to contain advertising claims for the hair loss treatments provided by its sponsor, Ayurvedic Nature Cure.

The credit included the claim, “We specialise in the prevention of hair loss and provide regrowth solutions”. It also provided the company’s address, telephone number, email address and website address. Several products which appear to be used or sold by Ayurvedic Nature Cure were shown, as well as ‘before and after’ pictures of hair loss treatment. The voice over stated, “Are you suffering from hair problems? We have the most effective products and treatments available. Initial consultation is free. For more information contact Ayurvedic Nature Care - 0161 766 2700”.

Ofcom asked the broadcaster for comments with regard to Rule 9.13 of the Code which states, “Sponsorship must be clearly separated from advertising. Sponsor credits must not contain advertising messages or calls to action. In particular, credits must not encourage the purchase or rental of the products or services of the sponsor or a third party”.

Revelation TV responded that the programme was a lecture given by Dan Juster at a conference in Israel in 2007. The lecture was entitled Israel, Islam and the Church. It said that Dan Juster is a Master of Divinity who has taught in various universities and colleges in the USA, Korea, Brazil and Hungary. The broadcaster continued that this programme was one of a series of seven and that, having viewed the previous six editions of the series and found them to be compliant with the Code, it was lulled into a false sense of security with respect to this seventh episode and did not view it for compliance prior to transmission.

The broadcaster continued that if it had been aware of the programme’s content it would either not have shown it, or would have arranged a discussion/debate on the issues raised, since it was aware that as a religious television channel it had many viewers who were sympathetic to the Muslim faith. It concluded its response by stating that it was increasingly engaging with its viewers through debate and dialogue and had recently hosted a debate, on the role of women in Islam and Christianity, where the Muslim point of view was presented by a respected Imam.

Response

MATV claimed that there were no sales messages in the “advertisement”, but that there was a voice over encouraging viewers to contact the company if they suffered from hair loss.

Decision

The purpose of a sponsorship credit is to inform the audience that a programme is sponsored and to identify the sponsor. Credits do not count towards the time broadcasters are allowed to advertise (advertising minutage). To prevent credits becoming advertisements, and therefore increasing the amount of advertising transmitted, broadcasters are required to ensure that sponsorship credits do not include advertising messages. This reflects the requirements of European legislation (i.e. the European Television Without Frontiers Directive).

Ofcom’s published guidance states that sponsors may include basic contact details in sponsorship credits. If sponsor credits contain contact details, these should include the minimum information necessary to allow viewers to make initial contact with the sponsor should they so wish. Contact details may include a description of the means of contact (e.g. tel:, text:) but must not invite or exhort viewers to contact the sponsor. The guidance also states that any direct appeals to the viewer to buy or try the sponsor’s goods or services or to contact the sponsor for more information are likely to breach Rule 9.13.

This particular sponsor credit included the company’s address, telephone number, email address and website address, which we considered to be an excessive amount of contact information. This, taken together with the references to the sponsor’s products and services (e.g. “we have the most effective products and treatments available” and “initial consultation is free”) and the call to action (“for more information contact Ayurvedic Nature Cure - 0161 766 2700”), were clear advertising messages included to promote Ayurvedic Nature Cure.

Ofcom judged that the sponsorship credit contained advertising messages, including claims for the efficacy of the products. The inclusion of the advertising messages within the credit was unacceptable and in breach of Rule 9.13.

Rule 9.3 of the Code requires sponsorship to comply with the advertising content rules. In this case, because no advertising messages should have appeared in the sponsorship credit, Ofcom did not assess the substantiation supplied to support the claims made in the advertising messages. However, Ofcom did note that Ervamatin - one of the products which appeared in the sponsorship credit - was the subject of two adjudications[(-1-)]by the Advertising Standards Authority (“ASA”). The ASA found the inclusion of Ervamatin in advertisements broadcast on other television channels to be in breach of the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice’s (“BCAP”) Television Advertising Standards Code and concluded that Ervamatin should not be advertised without adequate substantiation of the claims made about it.

Breach of Rule 9.13

Footnotes:

1.- Language and Sexual Imagery in Broadcasting: A Contextual Investigation (2005)

The full adjudications can be found at: http://www.asa.org.uk/asa/adjudications/Public/TF_ADJ_42384.htm and http://www.asa.org.uk/asa/adjudications/Public/TF_ADJ_44024.htm


Scott Mills
Radio 1, 12 August 2008, 16:00

Introduction

A listener complained about an item called “Badly Bleeped TV” - a regular feature in this radio programme, in which extracts from TV or radio are played with words ‘bleeped’ out. The words themselves are later revealed as being not offensive. However, the remaining beginning and ending sounds of the words give the impression that the ‘bleep’ is masking an offensive word, or create the beginning and end sound of an offensive word on either side of the ‘bleep’.

On this occasion, two of the clips included words that began with ‘f’ and these were edited in such a way that the listener believed that he had heard the word “fuck”.

Ofcom wrote to the BBC for its comments under Rule 1.14 of the Code ( the most offensive language must not be broadcast before the watershed or when children are particularly likely to be listening).

Response

The BBC responded that “Badly Bleeped TV” is one of the more popular items on Scott Mills and that it considered that the item is in line with the level of satire and humour that the programme’s audience would expect from the show. It acknowledged that the feature is somewhat “risqué”. However it maintained that the words omitted from the extracts are “entirely innocuous” in nature, with the humour of the item resting in the listeners recognising in their minds a similarity between the remaining parts of the ‘bleeped’ word and a potentially offensive word. It belongs to “the saucy seaside postcard tradition of comedy, than to anything more offensive”.

The BBC said that the words that were ‘bleeped’, as referred to by the complainant, were “fated to meet” and “fantastic”. The word “fuck” was therefore not used and the words that were ‘bleeped’ bore no resemblance to that word. It said the real missing words were revealed very quickly, leaving the listener in no doubt as to what was omitted.

Decision

Ofcom accepts that the feature itself was in keeping with the irreverent humour of the Scott Mills show and that its suggestive style was likely to have been in line with the expectations of regular listeners. A variety of ‘bleeped’ words were included which gave the first impression of being something offensive, but which it transpired were innocent. In these cases, no offence could be caused to the audience since the potentially offensive words were not audible.

In respect of the complaint, Ofcom considered the two words that began with ‘f’.

As regards the first instance, Ofcom noted that while listeners had been led to believe the word “fucked” was the missing word, the word “fucked” was not clearly audible.

However in relation to the second word in the broadcast which began with an ‘f’, Ofcom noted that the beginning and end sounds of the ‘bleeped’ word were ‘f’ at the beginning, and a strong ‘ck’ after the ‘bleep’. This was played twice and clearly - for all intents and purposes - sounded like the word “fuck”.

Ofcom research[(-1-)] has demonstrated that the word “fuck” and its derivatives are considered by most people as examples of the most offensive language. Rule 1.14 does not allow for editorial justification in the use of such language. In this instance, the programme was broadcast at 16:00 , during school holidays, and was therefore on air at a time when children were likely to be listening.

Ofcom found that, by broadcasting a word that had been purposefully edited to sound identical to the word “fuck”, the programme was in breach of Rule 1.14 of the Code.

Breach of Rule 1.14

Footnotes:

1.- Language and Sexual Imagery in Broadcasting: A Contextual Investigation (2005)

http://www.ofcom.org.uk/research/radio/reports/bcr/language.pdf


Resolved

After You’ve Gone
BBC1, 28 July 2008, 19:30

Introduction

 After You’ve Gone is a comedy series featuring the character Jimmy, whose mother-in-law has moved in with the family after his divorce.

In this episode Jimmy has a painful hernia and is unable to move off the sofa. In the scene in question, Jimmy craves a sweet biscuit but his mother-in-law, Diana, leaves him with a healthier rice cake to eat and his prescription painkillers in a bottle. She advises him to take two tablets every four hours. After Diana has left the house Jimmy looks at the tablet bottle and says “these are bound to have some sugar in them” and proceeds to shake out a handful of tablets and swallow them. He then swallows another handful.

In the next scene, Jimmy wakes disorientated and under the influence of the overdose of tablets. In his drug-induced state, he is shown to be in a mellow and relaxed mood, demonstrating a comic softening of his more uptight attitude towards his children and Diana, before falling asleep contented on the sofa. He wakes later, believing he has experienced a dream and showing no adverse side effects of the overdose of drugs. Later in the programme his mother-in-law attributes his more relaxed behaviour as being the result of “one too many happy pills”.

A viewer expressed concern that the overdose of painkillers shown in this episode was unsafe, appeared to show no adverse health consequences and that this demonstrated irresponsibility on the broadcaster’s behalf. Ofcom asked the BBC for comments under Rule 1.10 (the abuse of drugs must generally be avoided before the watershed.)

Response

The BBC asked Ofcom to take into consideration that the script made it clear that the drugs were prescription painkillers, that Jimmy did not take the drugs for their effect but because he thought they would have sugar in them. This was consistent with the character’s foolishness, and what he did under the influence of the drugs gave him great cause for concern.

Furthermore, the BBC argued that by taking the drugs Jimmy suffered negative consequences and “scaled new heights of foolishness to his considerable embarrassment”. In the BBC’s view, it was therefore unlikely that Jimmy’s actions condoned or glamorised the abuse of drugs.

The BBC added that After You’ve Gone was broadcast “well after” the end of programming aimed at children and that by 19:30 the youngest children were not normally watching BBC1. It added that the programme required a reasonably mature understanding of social class and family dynamics and was therefore unlikely to appeal to the youngest children. Those old enough to understand it would have appreciated that the content relied on numerous absurdities.

However, the BBC accepted that this particular episode was broadcast during July when many schoolchildren would have been on holiday and therefore perhaps staying up later than usual. After You’ve Gone was originally commissioned for broadcast at 20:30 by which time a higher proportion of younger viewers would have gone to bed. The BBC said it now recognised that this programme was not appropriate for younger viewers and should therefore not have been broadcast in this earlier timeslot. The BBC assured Ofcom that, in light of its content, the episode would not be broadcast again before 20:30 .

Decision

Rule 1.10 requires broadcasters to avoid generally the abuse of drugs, and in any case such abuse should not be condoned, encouraged or glamorised in programmes broadcast before the watershed, unless there is editorial justification. This Rule covers all drugs, not just recreational or illicit drugs.

In this episode it is made clear that the character Jimmy chooses to exceed the recommended dosage of prescription medication. In reality, any abuse of painkilling medication carries the risk of very serious and even fatal side effects. In the scene, however, Jimmy is shown to experience only a relaxing of his inhibitions. The hallucinatory side effects of the overdose and his subsequent behaviour are accompanied by canned audience laughter which serves to emphasise the intended comedy of the situation.

Ofcom notes the broadcaster’s argument that Jimmy did not take the drugs for their intended medical effect, but because he thought they might have sugar in them and this behaviour was consistent with the “well established ignorance and foolishness” of Jimmy in this long-running series. Although Jimmy appeared to suffer no adverse effects through his overdose, we took into account that by the conclusion of the episode Jimmy was shown to be embarrassed by his behaviour under the influence of the medication.

Ofcom recognises this was a comedy and therefore the scene was intended for humorous effect. Humour often derives from exaggerating a situation to the point of absurdity, but it is Ofcom’s view that where the content includes the abuse of drugs, particularly when the programme is broadcast at a time when younger children may be watching, broadcasters should exercise particular caution.

Audience data shows that some 9% of the audience consisted of children under the age of 15 (a total of about 224,000). Ofcom considers that younger viewers may not appreciate the potential dangers of the behaviour portrayed in the scene in question, particularly given its portrayal in an amusing light and possible ‘fun’ consequences. We therefore welcome the BBC’s recognition that given its content this programme was not appropriately scheduled for younger viewers and its assurances that it would not therefore broadcast this episode again before 20:30 . In light of this, Ofcom considers the matter resolved.

Resolved


Out of Remit

Aalim Online
Geo UK/Geo TV

Introduction

Geo UK is a general entertainment and news channel broadcasting on the Sky platform, to an Urdu speaking audience. Aalim Online is a religious discussion programme, hosted by Dr Aamer Liaquat Hussain.

Ofcom received 1,570 complaints concerning the programme. There was evidence that the complaints were part of an orchestrated campaign. Complaints stated that the programme was broadcast on 7 September 2008. This programme included a discussion concerning the movement of Ahmadiyya[(-1-)]. Two complainants provided recordings of the programme obtained from the internet.

The complainants objected to the programme on a number of grounds, including that:

  • the programme was broadcast on the 34 th anniversary of the Ahmadi community being declared non-Muslim by the authorities in Pakistan ;
  • the programme was extremely offensive to followers of the Ahmadi faith; and
  • there were comments in the programme that constituted an incitement to harm or kill Ahmadis.

Several clerics contributed to the programme by telephone and in the studio, and according to a certified translation received by Ofcom, from a firm of lawyers representing one complainant, one cleric, speaking by telephone, said:

“As long as this evil exists and a single Qadiani[(-2-)] is on this land, Dr.Sahib, there is a need for his removal. Maybe you or the viewers have understood my point”.

Later in the programme, another cleric in the studio said:

 “Anyone who will make such a claim[(-3-)] is a liar, and it is obligatory to kill him in the sight of certified religious scholars of the Muslim ummah[(-4-)] as well”.

Complainants pointed to the fact that, in the days following the broadcast, two prominent Ahmadis were killed in Pakistan .

Ofcom contacted Geo UK outlining the complaints that it had received, and requested a recording of the programme.

Response

Geo UK stated that the programme had been broadcast only on its Pakistan service, “Geo TV”. The broadcaster said that it had not been broadcast on its Ofcom licensed service “Geo UK ”.

The broadcaster said Geo UK broadcasts the same content as Geo TV, on a time-shift basis, five hours after it is broadcast in Pakistan .

However, in relation to the edition of Aalim Online of 7 September 2008 , Geo UK said that it realised that the programme, as broadcast on the Geo TV service in Pakistan , would not comply with the Code. As a consequence, the broadcaster said that the programme in question was not broadcast on Geo UK , and instead a recording of the previous day’s edition of Aalim Online was broadcast in its place.

Geo UK also made representations to Ofcom concerning the translation that Ofcom had received of the programme. It offered a different interpretation of that translation on a couple of points.

Decision

The Geo TV service broadcast in Pakistan is not licensed or regulated by Ofcom.

After receiving the recording of its service from Geo UK , given the gravity of the allegations made against the broadcaster, Ofcom took steps to authenticate the recording. First, it arranged for the material to be viewed by an Urdu speaker, who confirmed that the programme complained of did not appear to be transmitted on the Geo UK service (i.e. it did not appear on the recording provided by Geo UK ). Second, Ofcom noted that during the recording (provided by Geo UK) there were regular on-screen graphics displaying the time of “Iftar”[(-5-)] in London, and the time displayed tallied with the publicly published times for Iftar in London for 7 September 2008. As the time of Iftar will change daily, it was clear that the recording was of the broadcast of Geo UK ’s output for the early evening segment of 7 September 2008 .

Finally, Ofcom noted that the on-screen appearance of the recording matched the on-screen appearance of the Geo UK service broadcast on the Sky platform, and was distinct from the on-screen appearance of the material on the recordings provided by complainants, which were all from a particular website hosting the original programme, that had been broadcast on Geo TV in Pakistan.

Given the above, Ofcom was satisfied that the programme that had been complained about was not broadcast on Geo UK, the television service licensed by Ofcom but in fact on the Pakistani Geo TV service. The version the complainants had complained about had been broadcast only on the Pakistani service and had been available on the internet and as a consequence, none of the complaints could be entertained.

Not in Remit

Footnotes:

1.-A movement that grew out of mainstream Islam in the 19 th Century, although Ahmadis still consider themselves Muslims.

2.- A term for an Ahmadi, which is seen as derogatory by members of the Ahmadiyya.

3.- Concerning a claim of false prophethood.

4.-An Arabic word, which in connection to Islam, is held to mean “the community of the believers” or the whole Muslim world.

5.-The evening meal that marks the break of the daily fast during the month of Ramadan. The time displayed on screen for Iftar in London for 7 September 2008 was indicated to be 7:37pm.


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