Broadcast Bulletin Issue number 143 12/10/09
Taamulat fiddine wa Siyassa
Al Hiwar TV, 22 February 2009
Al Hiwar TV (“Al Hiwar”) is a channel that broadcasts programmes in Arabic to Arabic-speaking audiences across Europe including those of Tunisian origin.
On 26 February 2009 Ofcom received a complaint that an offensive comment was made in the programme by a guest who was being interviewed. He was Rachid Ghannouchi, the leader of an Islamic Tunisian opposition political party, En-Nahda. The complainant alleged that Mr Ghannouchi said:
“… the term “terrorist” here has a splendid meaning…that is why I admire the Al-Quassam missiles…It is a civilised weapon, in the sense that it enables the expected aim to be attained…”
By way of background, the complainant said that “the famous al-Qassam missiles of Hamas have killed more than ten people (including children), injured over a hundred people, and caused the flight of thousands of inhabitants from Sderot, an Israeli town near the Gaza strip.” (-1-)
Ofcom sought an independent English translation of the relevant section of the programme. It noted that Mr Ghannouchi first quoted some verses from the Qu’ran. He interpreted one which contains the phrase to “strike terror” into them as meaning:
Mr Ghannouchi: “ that preparing power and strength does not aim at dominating and attacking but at keeping aggression away. In fact, the phrase ‘to strike terror into them’ is amazing because preparing power and strength does not mean to kill the others but rather to prevent them from attacking or carrying on aggression against you. That is why I quite like the Qassam rockets. During the war[referring to the Israeli incursion into Gaza] they did not kill anyone on the other side, they scared them only. It is a civilised weapon as it serves the purpose, it creates balance in power… Allah says not to exaggerate killing. Excess killing is not the purpose of war or jihad if aggression can be stopped by a Molotov bomb or Qassam rocket in order to create intimidation and balance in power because peace is the essence of Islam.”
Ofcom asked the broadcaster to explain the remarks with regard to compliance with Rule 2.3 (in applying generally accepted standards broadcasters must ensure that material which may cause offence is justified by the context). In particular Ofcom wanted to know how Mr Ghannouchi’s comments, praising the Qassam rockets (and Molotov “bombs” or cocktails) and their ability to strike fear into communities, complied with the Code.
Al Hiwar responded that the programme was aimed at promoting political participation with a view to explaining to young Arab viewers that Islam is compatible with democracy. It continued that the primary purpose of the programme was to refute claims by radical groups that Islam forbids Muslims from participating in democratic processes; and to dissuade young people from resorting to violence in pursuit of political reform.
The broadcaster continued that it had subsequently asked Mr Ghannouchi about the statement he made during the programme. Mr Ghannouchi responded that, at the time (of the programme on 22 February 2009), he was not aware that the Qassam rockets had killed people during the period of war in Gaza (27 December 2008 – 18 January 2009) although he did accept the impact they had had on the civilian Israeli population. The broadcaster said that Mr Ghannouchi said the purpose and context of his comments was to demonstrate that Islam does not encourage the use of violence and killing even in the case of open war. The broadcaster also challenged Ofcom’s translation of the text of Mr Ghannouchi’s remarks. It said that Mr Ghannouchi had said “to dismay/deter them” as opposed to “to strike terror into them.”
Al Hiwar said that it adopts a very strict policy against glorifying terrorism, racism, anti-semitism and abuse of individuals in its programmes and that it issued strict instructions to its presenters to interrupt guests if they made remarks which might fall into those categories, and to apologise for them. However, on this occasion it said that it recognised that the Qassam rockets example was unfortunate and as consequence it had “potentially, but not deliberately or intentionally, breached the Code.”
All broadcasters have the right to hold opinions and impart information and ideas to their audiences without interference and audiences are entitled to receive those ideas and opinions, in accordance with Article 10 of the European Convention. Whilst broadcasters are obliged under their licence to comply with the standards set out in the Code, including standards which adequately protect members of the public from offensive (or harmful) material (Rule 2.3), these standards should be applied in a manner which “best guarantees an appropriate level of freedom of expression.” Material which may be considered offensive may be broadcast provided it complies with the Code – in particular the Code requires that the inclusion of offensive material in a programme must be justified by the context (Rule 2.3).
In this case, the programme’s presenter conducted an interview with three guests including Mr Ghannouchi. Mr Ghannouchi had been invited to take part in the programme because he is considered by the broadcaster to be a prominent authority on Islamic political thought. The presenter opened the programme stating that:
Presenter: “In today’s episode we talk or reflect on the issue of peace and war in Islam. One of the characteristics of Islam here is that it has made peace the natural relation and war the exceptional one…”
There followed a discussion on how and when war is justified by Islam, where Mr Ghannouchi commented:
Mr Ghannouchi: “When one attacks you, when the other one becomes aggressive, you have no choice but to defend yourself because Islam is a religion of instinct, it allows human beings to defend themselves. However, the purpose of defence itself is to go back to the original state which is that of peace. That is why, chapter Al-Anfal says: ‘against them make ready your strength to the utmost of your power, including steeds of war, to strike terror into (the hearts of) the enemies…’(Verse 60) the next verse however, says: ‘but if the enemy incline towards peace, do thou (also) incline towards peace, and trust in Allah…’ which means that preparing power and strength does not aim at dominating and attacking but at keeping aggression away. In fact, the phrase ‘to strike terror into them’ is amazing because preparing power and strength does not mean to kill the others but rather to prevent them from attacking or carrying on aggression against you. That is why I quite like the Qassam rockets. During the war they did not kill anyone on the other side, they scared them only. It is a civilised weapon as it serves the purpose, it creates balance in power because Allah says not to exaggerate killing. Excess killing is not the purpose of war or jihad if aggression can be stopped by a Molotov bomb or Qassam rocket in order to create intimidation and balance in power because peace is the essence of Islam.”
In response, the presenter said:
Presenter: “…one should defend himself against Muslim and non-Muslim aggressors…”
Ofcom therefore noted that the programme did not query the remarks made by Mr Ghannouchi and, in fact, appeared by implication to endorse them.
Ofcom acknowledged that the full context of this programme was to promote a wider understanding of peaceful political participation from an Islamic perspective. However, included within the programme were a number of unchallenged remarks which had the potential to cause offence to viewers by virtue of the fact that they included praise for Molotov bombs, and Qassam rockets which in the months before the programme was broadcast, had been responsible for a number of deaths and injuries. Whilst Rule 2.3 of the Code states that offensive material: “May include…offensive language…”, the use of such potentially inflammatory language, in particular referring to Qassam rockets as “a civilised weapon” went beyond the overall premise of a programme that the broadcaster has clearly stated was about peace and “to dissuade the youth from resorting to violence in pursuit of political reform.” Given the programme essentially permitted a guest in a discussion to praise the use of bombs, without challenge, Ofcom believed that there was insufficient justification for including the comments. As a consequence, the broadcaster failed to comply with generally accepted standards in breach of Rule 2.3 of the Code.Breach of Rule 2.3
1.- The references are to certain missiles fired from Palestinian territory into Israel. These comments were made shortly after the controversial Israeli military incursion into Gaza which began in December 2008.
Win a Holiday in May competition
Smooth Radio Northwest, May 2009, various dates
Throughout May 2009, Smooth Radio Northwest ran a weekly phone-in competition. Listeners were asked to call the station as soon as they heard a particular clue and if selected at random, were brought to air to answer a question. If correct, they were awarded £100 and a place in each Friday’s draw to win a holiday. The competition was promoted as follows:
“How would you like to spend an all-inclusive week in paradise on twelve miles of white sandy beaches? If you haven’t already take a look online now – there are some amazing images of Turks and Caicos and all the details, terms and conditions for this wonderful prize.”
Listeners entered by calling a standard rate telephone number.
Ofcom received a complaint from a listener who had won one of the competitions and was surprised to find that the prize excluded airport taxes, which they were required to pay. The complainant stated that the taxes were approximately £400 in total. The complainant felt that the promotion should have made it clear that taxes were not included in the prize.
Ofcom therefore asked the broadcaster for its comments under Rule 2.11 of the Code (“Competitions should be conducted fairly, prizes should be described accurately and rules must be appropriately made known”).
GMG Radio, who owns the licence for Smooth Radio Northwest explained that each promotion advised listeners interested in participating in the competition to visit the station’s website for the full terms and conditions. The terms and conditions stated that winners would be required to pay airport taxes. It also said that those entrants who progressed to each of the Friday draws were contacted directly to confirm their telephone number and to check that they had read the terms and conditions online.
GMG Radio added that owing to the number of conditions relating to this particular prize, it took the decision to refer listeners to off-air information rather than meticulously list all the specifics of the prize. It considered it reasonable to assume listeners would check terms and conditions, particularly as travel prizes often have elements that should be addressed prior to visiting, giving passport/visa requirements, health regulations and airport taxes as examples.
The broadcaster believed that it was not a requirement to refer to the exclusion of airport taxes in the on-air prize description given the number of times listeners were advised to read the online terms and conditions. It therefore considered the promotion was compliant with Rule 2.11 of the Code.
Ofcom noted the extent to which the competition’s terms and conditions were referred to both during the broadcast promotion and the telephone calls made to participants of the draw.
However, it was concerned that the on-air description of the prize as “all-inclusive” did not accurately reflect what was actually on offer. In Ofcom’s view, the requirement to pay over £400 towards a holiday for two people meant that the prize could not reasonably be described as being “all-inclusive”, and would have deterred some listeners from entering the competition had it been included in the on-air description. Ofcom therefore considered this to be a significant factor and as such, should have been made clear during the promotion, irrespective of the repeated reminders to listeners to check terms and conditions of the competition online. Ofcom therefore concluded that the prize was not described accurately on air.
Breach of Rule 2.11
Sikh Channel, 8 June 2009, 17:00
The Sikh Channel is aimed at the Sikh community in the UK and is broadcast on the satellite platform.
A viewer was concerned that, during Rehraas Sahib, a programme consisting of evening prayers, a website address was promoted in an on-screen caption.
Ofcom noted that the website address for a company called Punjabi Paintings appeared continuously at the bottom of the screen for a period of 21 minutes.
We asked the broadcaster for its comments in relation to the following Code Rules:
- 10.4 - No undue prominence may be given in any programme to a product or service.
- 10.5 - Product placement is prohibited.
The licensee, TV Legal Limited, told Ofcom that it had become aware that during this programme it had featured the website address of Punjabi Paintings in error. However, the broadcaster also said that the website “exhibit[s] artwork of a religious nature which tied into the programme.” The broadcaster added that “the website was featured in a small unobtrusive strap.”
TV Legal Limited assured Ofcom that product placement had not occurred as no payment was received for inclusion of the website address within the programme. The broadcaster told Ofcom that it had withdrawn the display of the website address from within its programmes and “will exercise much greater vigilance in the future.”
One of the fundamental principles of European broadcasting regulation is that advertising and programming (that is editorial content) must be kept separate. This is set out in Article 10 of the Television Without Frontiers Directive which is in turn reflected in the rules in Section Ten (Commercial References in Programmes) of the Code.
We noted the broadcaster’s assurances that it had received no payment or other valuable consideration for featuring the Punjabi Paintings website address in the programme, and the explanation that it had been broadcast in error, and therefore concluded that it was not in breach of Rule 10.5 of the Code or that the reference was in fact an advertisement.
The Code states that undue prominence may result from both, “the manner in which a product or service (including company names, brand names, logos) appears or is referred to in a programme” and “the presence of or reference to, a product or service (including company names, brand names, logos) in a programme where there is no editorial justification.”
Ofcom noted that this was a religious programme featuring evening prayers. The Punjabi Paintings website “exhibits artwork of a religious nature.” However, there appeared to be no other connection between the programme and the website. Therefore, Ofcom did not find any editorial justification for the appearance of the website’s URL within the programme, particularly since it lasted for a period of 21 minutes.
Ofcom considered that the lack of editorial justification for the reference to the website address within the programme, taken together with its appearance for 21 minutes was unduly prominent, in breach of Rule 10.4 of the Code.
Breach of Rule 10.4
Big Brother’s Little Brother
Channel 4, 2 August 2009, 12:40
Big Brother’s Little Brother ( “BBLB”) is a pre-watershed ‘sister programme’ to Channel 4’s main Big Brother series ( “BB”). It is screened live on weekdays at 18:00 and on Sunday lunchtimes. It provides an overview of the latest events in the Big Brother house and interviews with evicted housemates. Ofcom received one complaint from a viewer that two housemates who had recently left the house, Noirin Kelly (“Noirin”) and Isaac Stout (“Isaac”), used the words “shit” and “fuck” respectively. Ofcom asked Channel 4 to explain how the transmission of this offensive language at 12:40 complied with Rule 1.14 which requires that: “The most offensive language must not be broadcast before the watershed.”
The broadcaster said that the high profile of both BB and BBLB requires that particular importance is attached to ensuring compliance with the relevant regulatory requirements. It said that well in advance of the start of BBLB, the channel’s Legal & Compliance department conducts compliance training with the production team and the programme is overseen by a duty lawyer to ensure that issues are approached in a manner appropriate for pre-watershed broadcast.
This edition of the programme was presented by George Lamb and included interviews with both Noirin and Isaac who discussed their time as housemates. During her interview with George Lamb, Noirin discussed Isaac’s entry into the BB House:
Noirin: “…when he came in it was like…shit…”
George: “Whoa there. Sorry if we offended anyone with that profanity.”
George: “Let’s move on.”
Following this interview, Noirin and George were joined on set by Noirin’s boyfriend Isaac where the following was broadcast:
Isaac: “…so certainly yes, fuck them, sorry, ‘F’ them.”
George: “We genuinely would like to apologise if we offended anybody there.”
Isaac: “Sorry for the swearing, I know I’m not supposed to.”
After both guests had left the set, George said to camera [about Isaac]: “Turns out he is an idiot after all.”
Channel 4 said that, without delay, on hearing the use of strong language in the programme, the Channel 4 Presentation department was contacted by the Commissioning Editor to arrange an apology to be broadcast in the next advertising break. As a consequence, prior to the next advertising break, the Channel 4 logo appeared on screen and an apology was broadcast which said: “ Apologies for the strong language in that part of Big Brother’s Little Brother.”
The broadcaster said that the use of the word “fuck” in the pre-watershed programme was highly regrettable and that, whilst considered fairly mild on its own, in this context the use of the word “shit” may also have caused offence when used cumulatively with stronger language. It also said that both Noirin and Isaac were given a briefing about language by a senior and experienced member of the production team prior to going on air.
The broadcaster said that both remarks were unfortunate and it reiterated its apology to viewers for any offence caused. It said that it takes all reasonable steps in the circumstances to ensure that all contributors are aware of the parameters for broadcast language but that, with any live broadcast, there will be times when a contributor makes a remark that is inappropriate. It said that in such circumstances it is important to focus on how that inappropriate behaviour is addressed. On this occasion immediate apologies were given by the presenter and both guests and an on-air apology was made by Channel 4. As a consequence it said that best practice and compliance guidelines were closely followed and acted upon. It continued that it had reviewed and reaffirmed its editorial compliance procedures and that, in light of the fact that the presenter, the guests and the Channel immediately addressed what had occurred, it considered that this complaint should be resolved.
Rule 1.14 requires that the most offensive language must not be broadcast before the watershed. Ofcom noted on this occasion that the broadcast of a clear example of this language ( “fuck”), whilst unfortunate, occurred during a live broadcast and that the presenter and guest both immediately apologised for it. Ofcom also acknowledges that the word “shit” is considered only mildly offensive and a “toilet word” (-1-) and that its use here in a live programme transmitted before the watershed, was isolated, and that the presenter and guest again apologised immediately for its use. Channel 4 also broadcast an on-air apology to the audience for the use of offensive language in the programme and subsequently reiterated that apology to viewers by way of its response to Ofcom.
Given the immediate and appropriate action taken by the broadcaster, we consider the matter resolved.
1.- Language and Sexual Imagery in Broadcasting: A Contextual Investigation http://www.ofcom.org.uk/research/radio/reports/bcr/language.pdf
The full document and Fairness & Privacy cases are available below