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Broadcast Bulletin Issue number 167 11/10/10

Khatm-e-Nubuwwat (The Seal of Prophethood), Seal of the Prophets, Bahaar-e-Shariat (an encyclopaedia of Islamic jurisprudence), Assan Na Kashmir, The Da Vinci Treasure, Off Set, Brit Cops: Zero Tolerance, “Bedtime stories” advertisement for Act on CO...[More]

It is Ofcom's policy to describe fully the content in television and radio programmes that is subject to broadcast investigations. Some of the language and descriptions used in Ofcom's Broadcast Bulletin may therefore cause offence.

Standards cases

In Breach

Khatm-e-Nubuwwat (The Seal of Prophethood)
Ummah Channel, 21 May 2010, 22:00

Seal of the Prophets
Ummah Channel, 30 May 2010, 14:00 (repeat of a live broadcast shown on 14 April 2010)

Bahaar-e-Shariat (an encyclopaedia of Islamic jurisprudence)
Ummah Channel, 8 June 2010, 22:00

Introduction

The Ummah Channel is a satellite television service which aims “to promote knowledge of Islam through educating viewers to fulfil their spiritual and religious development”. The three programmes complained of followed a similar format: presenters moderating a phone-in where viewers put questions seeking guidance and instruction in the Islamic religion to a small group of scholars. The licence for this channel is held by Ummah Channel Limited.

Ofcom received 1,026 complaints from members of the Ahmadiyya religious community. This is a comparatively small Islamic movement founded by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qaadyani that grew out of mainstream Islam in the nineteenth century, whose followers believe themselves to be true Muslims. Followers of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad are known as Ahmadis or Qaadyanis or Ahmadiyya. The complainants expressed serious concerns about the programmes Khatm-e-Nubuwwat (571 complaints received); Seal of the Prophets (173 complaints received); and Bahaar-e-Shariat (282 complaints received) broadcast on the Ummah Channel. There was evidence that the complaints were part of an orchestrated campaign.

The theme of the three programmes was the Islamic theological belief that Prophet Muhammad was the last of the prophets and, thereafter, all others claiming to be prophets are false (including, according to a number of mainstream Muslims, the founder of the Ahmadiyya, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qaadyani).

All of the complainants from the Ahmadiyya community expressed significant concern that, in effect, the content of the programmes amounted to “a hate campaign” against them and that it would lead to the incitement of violence, given that it was, according to some complainants, “declared on-air that killing Ahmadi Muslims is legal in Islamic jurisprudence and also a duty for any Muslim”. Some of the complainants also stated that the content was particularly unacceptable given attacks on two Ahmadi mosques in Lahore which had taken place on 28 May 2010 shortly before the broadcasts of 30 May and 8 June 2010. A significant number of the complainants also highlighted that in addition to inciting hatred and violence the programmes subjected the Ahmadiyya movement to abusive treatment.

Ofcom employed the services of an independent translator, a native Urdu speaker, to translate extracts from the three programmes and produce a transcript of the content from the original Urdu. We cite a selection of the translated comments made during the broadcasts to illustrate the tone and content of the programmes complained of (however, the programmes were considered in full and in context):

[Guest Scholar:] “We are the guardians of the faith of the companions of Prophet Muhammad who beheaded false prophets. Allah willing as long as there are Muslims, and the spark of faith is inside them, they will continue to conduct jihad against false prophets”
(Khatm-e-Nubuwwat, 21 May 2010, 22:00)

[Guest Scholar]: “Many liars have falsely claimed prophethood; one of these men was Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qaadyani. He has a vast fellowship who affirm his claim to prophethood.”
(Khatm-e-Nubuwwat, 21 May 2010, 22:00)

[Guest Scholar]: “…it is the unanimous decision of the confirmed Paradise dwellers that the one who claims to be a prophet after Prophet Muhammad is a kafir [unbeliever], apostate and must be killed”
(Khatm-e-Nubuwwat, 21 May 2010, 22:00)

[Guest Scholar]: “After he (Muhammad) disappeared from this world, many liars falsely claimed prophethood; one of these men was Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qaadyani…If one belongs to this group…then we advise him to seek repentance from the core of his heart”
(Khatm-e-Nubuwwat, 21 May 2010, 22:00)

[Guest Scholar]: Until now, whenever one has claimed to be a prophet the Muslim nation has issued fatwa that he should be killed. It is only that at present Muslims are weak and they do not have the power to slice such a man in two parts. If Muslims had the courage and power that prevailed in the period of the associates of prophet Muhammad a false prophet would have met the same fate as that of Musaylima Kazaab” (-1-)
(Khatm-e-Nubuwwat, 21 May 2010, 22:00)

[Guest Scholar]: “Sunni scholars had realised that the filth of this group [Ahmadis] would spread to the entire country from their headquarters and they [Ahmadis] will try to convert the land of purity [Pakistan] into the land of filth. That is why the scholars of the Sunni Muslims resolved to fight against them with their burial clothes tied around their heads”
(Seal of the Prophets, 30 May 2010, 14:00)

[Guest Scholar]: “Any kind of contact with them [Ahmadis] is “haram” [prohibited]. Do not eat with them, do not drink with them, and do not sit with them. There should be no dealing with them…” (Seal of the Prophets, 30 May 2010, 14:00)

[Guest Scholar]: “We will chase them [Ahmadis] to deserts and enter the field as soldiers of the end of prophethood… May Allah grant the capacity to the guardians of the end of prophethood and those who want to sacrifice their lives in this cause, to fulfil their responsibilities in this period, and the capacity to leave this secure place and chase them in the deserts.”
(Seal of the Prophets, 30 May 2010, 14:00)

[Guest Scholar]: “There is this man [a non-Muslim] whose faith is so filthy and whose deeds are so filthy and you are socializing with him? You try your best to avoid physical filth and you are not willing to shake hand; you should also protect yourself from potential filth and stay away from him.”
(Bahaar-e-Shariat, 8 June 2010, 22:00)

Some of the references above were selected by the scholars from, or based upon, religious texts.

According to the Code, a “religious programme” is one “which deals with matters of religion as the central subject, or as a significant part, of the programme”. In Ofcom’s opinion these three broadcasts were clearly religious programmes.

Ofcom asked the Ummah Channel to provide formal comments with reference to the following Code rules:

  • Rule 3.1 (material likely to encourage or incite the commission of crime or to lead to disorder must not be included in television and radio services); and
  • Rule 4.2 (the religious beliefs of those belonging to a particular religion or religious denomination must not be subject to abusive treatment in religious programmes).

Response

The Ummah Channel made an unreserved apology for any offence caused by the broadcast of these three programmes detailed above. The channel stressed it was never the intention of the Ummah Channel to cause any distress or offence as this was not the mission of the channel. Further, the broadcaster stated that it did not support or condone the opinions which were delivered by independent scholars during ‘live’ phone-in shows.

Consequently the broadcaster confirmed that it had transmitted an on-air apology of several occasions, the text of which is detailed below (-2-):

“The Ummah Channel would like to express their sincere apologies for any offence caused in the broadcast of the three programmes in question namely: Khatm-e-Nubuwaat, Seal of the Prophets and Bahaar-e-Shariat. It was never the intention of the Ummah Channel to support or condone these opinions that were delivered by independent scholars during ‘live’ phone-in shows.”

In addition, the broadcaster stated it was implementing a number of procedures to ensure that material of a similar nature could not be broadcast again. These were:

  • all live transmissions that have a viewer interactive strand within the programme will be watched by staff who have a thorough understanding of the aspects of compliance and will, should it prove necessary, mute any broadcast prior to being allowed on air. This will include a 30 second delay to broadcast; and
  • all the scholars have been informed of their obligation to adhere to regulations relating to the Broadcasting Code and have signed a form of agreement to comply.

The broadcaster also confirmed that the presenter of two of the broadcasts ( Khatm-e-Nubuwwat and Seal of the Prophets), Sahail Ahmed, was initially suspended and now no longer works for the Ummah Channel.

The channel pointed out that the edition of Seal of the Prophets broadcast on 30 May 2010 was a repeat of a programme broadcast previously on 14 April 2010. The Ummah Channel explained that this repeat was transmitted by a member of staff who is not an Urdu speaker and the repeated broadcast of this programme occurred as a result of a scheduling error.

In terms of the content of the programmes, the broadcaster explained that the three programmes complained of were all related to the teachings of Islam, which firmly believe that Muhammad was the last Prophet. The view of the complainants was that their leader is a prophet after Muhammad and “none of the scholars [on the programmes] believe this to be true”. Therefore whilst the scholars did not wish to offend anybody “they will not accept that their leader [ie Mirza Ghulam Ahmad] is a prophet”.

The broadcasters also submitted three letters written by some of the scholars who contributed to the programmes above. In one letter the scholar concerned explained that the sources of a selection of his statements presented in Khatm-e-Nubuwwat (21 May 2010, 22:00) were the “most accepted and famous books after the Qur’an” and he quotes from the writings of the founder of the Ahmadi religion, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. In the second letter the scholar stated that he did not intend to offend and expressed his apologies for any direct or indirect hurt he may have caused. The third scholar explained that it is an Islamic religious understanding that Muslims should “stay away from those who declare prophecy after Muhammad” but as followers of Islam they are also bound to respect all religions equally and live with them in peace, respect and harmony.

Finally, the broadcaster explained that as these were phone-in programmes all viewers could put forward their point of view which provided an opportunity for a range of opinions to be presented.

Decision

In reaching this decision Ofcom has taken careful account of the right to freedom of expression, as set out in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Article 10 provides for the right of freedom of expression, which provides the right to transmit and receive creative material, information and ideas without interference from a public body. Applied to broadcasting, Article 10 therefore protects the broadcaster’s right to transmit material as well as the audience’s right to receive it as long as the broadcaster ensures compliance with the Rules of the Code and the requirements of statutory and common law.

In investigating the serious concerns raised by the majority of the complainants in relation to incitement to hatred and subjecting the Ahmadi religion to abusive treatment, Ofcom reviewed the wider context in which the comments in these programmes were made.

In terms of the editorial content, Ofcom noted the broadcaster’s statement that the theme of these programmes was that Muhammad was the last prophet and this theme was reflected in the three titles of the programmes. The comments by the scholars made during these programmes, as set out above, were therefore made in the context of a religious programme broadcast on a channel which is aimed at a Muslim audience.

Ofcom considered the material broadcast under Rules 3.1 (crime), and 4.2 (abusive treatment of a religion)
 
Rule 3.1

Rule 3.1 states that:

“material likely to encourage or incite the commission of crime or to lead to disorder must not be included in television and radio service”.

The Rule is concerned with the likelihood of the encouragement or incitement of crime. In this case Ofcom therefore assessed:

  • firstly, whether more generally, references to the Ahmadiyya community in the programmes would be understood within a context that would be likely to encourage a crime of hatred or violence, or lead to disorder; and
  • secondly, if the actual comments as they were presented contained a direct or implied call to action which would be likely to encourage or incite the commission of crime or lead to disorder.

With reference to the first point, Ofcom is mindful of the long established tension between some members of mainstream Muslim groups and the Ahmadi movement which has resulted in a number of documented examples of intolerance, persecution and oppression against members of the Ahmadiyya community. Against this background Ofcom understood how some members of the Ahmadi religion would consider the type of statements included in the programmes, and set out in the Introduction to this finding to be of considerable concern.

Ofcom noted the various comments and statements made in the programme by the presenters and guest Islamic scholars which were perceived by complainants to either incite hatred or violence against the Ahmadis or were critical of, or abusive towards, the Ahmadiyya community. A number of illustrative examples are set out in the Introduction.

Ofcom can appreciate the distress experienced by the complainants in response to such statements detailed above. However in considering Rule 3.1 we are required to address the likelihood of the commission of a crime, in this case a hate crime against an Ahmadi follower. In particular, we have considered whether the references in the programmes included a direct or indirect call to action that would have encouraged Muslims to take violent or criminal action against the Ahmadiyya because of their beliefs.

Ofcom notes that it was the case that some of the references above were quoted by the scholars from religious texts. As such, the violent imagery within the comments was rooted in the language of the scriptures and aimed at those who claim to be “false prophets” rather than any existing religious group. It is therefore our view that the comments were not directed at the Ahmadiyya community.

However, given the context of the tension between the communities and the background to the issue, as described above, it was of considerable concern to Ofcom that the scholars did not, at any point during the programmes, comment on the scriptures in a manner so as to make clear to viewers that they wished or intended the words to be understood only symbolically and not literally, and that they were not in any way advocating hatred or any form of violence against Ahmadis. Ofcom’s concern was heightened by the evidence of recent violent action taken against Ahmadis and their religious buildings in Pakistan.

Notwithstanding these concerns, on reviewing the content it was Ofcom’s overall view that whilst the particular selection of the texts, and language, used by the scholars could be perceived at times as abusive and aggressive, it did not amount to incitement to commission crime or an attempt to lead viewers to disorder. The statements stopped short of encouraging violence against any existing specified or named group and did not clearly advocate any potentially criminal action. Therefore, Ofcom did not consider that the broadcaster breached Rule 3.1.

However, whilst Ofcom did not consider that the material was likely to result in the incitement of a crime, given that there was no direct or indirect call to action, we were extremely concerned about the potential for viewers to interpret the comments, particularly given the context of the ongoing tensions between the Ahmadiyya community and mainstream Islam. Ofcom would therefore urge broadcasters to apply extreme caution when complying such material, especially where there is an context of tension, to ensure that the potential for interpretation does not increase the likelihood of the commission of a crime.

Rule 4.2

Rule 4.2 states:

“The religious views and beliefs of those belonging to a particular religion or religious denomination must not be subject to abusive treatment.”

The above requirement comes directly from section 319(6)(b) of the Act.

The Code provides scope for the followers of one religion to engage in religious debate with, or criticise, other religions provided they comply with the Code, and in particular the general requirements for religious programmes set out in Section Four. It is therefore Ofcom’s view that the theme of these three programmes - a discussion about issues surrounding Muhammad as the last prophet - was clearly a legitimate theological discussion for a religious programme. As such, within this editorial context, it would also be legitimate to discuss the Ahmadiyya movement and critique the differences in their teachings on prophethood compared to mainstream Islam. Such an approach is rooted in the broadcaster’s and the audience’s right to freeom of expression. However, the Code requires that if programmes engage in this sort of debate the material broadcast should not include comments and references which might reasonably be considered to subject the religious views and beliefs of the Ahmadiyya religion to abusive treatment.

When considering “abusive treatment” in religious programmes under Rule 4.2, Ofcom would consider if the material included statements which sought to revile, attack or vehemently express condemnation towards another religion without sufficient justification by the context.

Ofcom noted that the broadcaster’s response and the letters from the scholars stated that Islamic scripture stated that those who accepted prophecy made by anyone after Muhammad were non-Muslim, and therefore Muslims should “stay away” from them. Therefore it was the view of the contributors to these programmes that their arguments were confirming a fundamental belief of Islam.

However, it is Ofcom’s view, that the references included in the programme by both contributors and scholars significantly exceeded a generic discussion about “non-Muslims” to such an extent that it included a number of directly derogatory and abusive references specifically about the Ahamdiyaa community. For example:

  • when the presenter asked a scholar why the Pakistani government declared the Ahmadis non-Muslims, a scholar replied specifically about “this group”, that is the Ahmadis:

“Sunni scholars had realised that the filth of this group [Ahmadis] would spread to the entire country from their headquarters and they [Ahmadis] will try to convert the land of purity into the land of filth”
(Seal of the Prophets, 30 May 2010, 14:00)

  • With reference to the Ahmadis’ use of the name “Rabwah” (-3-) to name their town in Pakistan a scholar responded:

“The Muslim nation should protest about this because their town is the first door to Hell and it should not be named Rabwah. We strongly condemn the use of this name…it would be better to call it something else such as “the Centre of Qaadyanis”…
(Seal of the Prophets, 30 May 2010, 14:00)

  • A caller to the programme commented as follows on Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the founder of the Ahmadiyya movement:

“And it is the need of this time that this Qaadyani liar and “djaal” [expert in cunning and deceit] and his liar followers must be condemned.” In response the presenter replied: “Yes”.
(Khatm-e-Nubuwwat, 21 May 2010, 22:00)

  • A scholar commented:

“Which Muslim in this world can think for a moment that while they [the Ahmadis] attacked the prophethood of Muhammad we could have any contact with them? Any kind of contact with them is “haram” [prohibited]. Do not eat with them, do not drink with them, do not sit with them”

(Seal of the Prophets, 30 May 2010, 14:00)

  • A scholar commented with reference to non-Muslims and from the context applicable to an Ahmadi follower:

“There is this man whose faith is so filthy and whose deeds are so filthy and you are socializing with him? You try your best to avoid physical filth and you are not willing to shake hand; you should also protect yourself from potential filth and stay away from him.”

(Bahaar-e-Shariat, 8 June 2010, 22:00)

Taking the three programmes together, Ofcom noted references such as: “filth” or “filthy” to describe the Ahmadiyya, comments by the scholars that Muslims should shun contact with “this group” and that Ahamdis were “hellbound”; and derogatory insults about the Ahmadi founder referring to him as a “liar” and a “cheat”. Ofcom also noted the various other comments set out in the Introduction to this finding. It was Ofcom’s view that the use of such terms and references when taken together amounted to “abusive treatment” of the religious views and beliefs of members of the Ahmadiyya community.

Further, it is Ofcom’s opinion that it was a serious compliance failing that the broadcaster was not aware of its responsibilities in terms of Rule 4.2 of the Code. Consequently the broadcaster did not identify nor take action during the live broadcasts to curtail the abusive nature of the comments about Ahmadis being made by a number of the contributors. This was despite the fact that a handful of Ahmadis,
who telephoned the first of the programmes, Khatm-e-Nubuwwat, on 21 May 2010 had highlighted the nature of the abusive language during the first of the three programmes broadcast. For example:

Caller #1: “I am an Ahmadi Muslim. Whatever you think of us, I do not care. However, by the grace of Allah, I consider myself a Muslim…”
(Khatm-e-Nubuwwat, 21 May 2010, 22:00)

Caller #2: “Before 1974, in the eyes of God, were the Ahmadis or Qaadyanis or Mirzais, whatever you call us – this is an ethical channel and it should use polite language – before 1974 the Ahmadis were considered Muslims, only God can decide this but because the Pakistan Assembly passed this resolution the Ahmadis became non-Muslims (-4-).”
  (Khatm-e-Nubuwwat, 21 May 2010, 22:00)

In addition, it is Ofcom’s view that neither of the two presenters featured on the three programmes exercised a proper degree of moderation or fairness, when handling the telephone calls from individuals and the responses from the scholars contributing. Ofcom noted that viewers could have perceived the conduct of the presenters as condoning towards the abusive references about the Ahmadi and dismissive towards the Ahmadi callers who contacted the programmes. If the presenters had moderated the programmes and put the discussion into a wider context in a more fair and effective manner they could have contributed towards lessening the impact of the abusive treatment presented in these programmes.

Ofcom welcomes the broadcaster’s apology and the steps it has taken to ensure that going forward such programmes are fully compliant with the Code. However, given the points set out above Ofcom considers that the broadcaster was in breach of Rule 4.2. We advise all broadcasters producing religious programmes to ensure that, when discussing the views and beliefs of either followers of the same religion or followers of other religions, they ensure those views and beliefs are not subject to abusive treatment.

Breach of Rule 4.2

In Breach

Footnotes:

  1.- According to Islamic scriptures Musaylima Kazaab was the first false claimant to prophethood.

  2.- The dates and times of the broadcast of the apology were: 29 August 2010 (07:44 & 20:46); 31 August 2010 (17:51, 20:23 & 21:17); 1 September 2010 (11:14; 12:53; 14:17 & 15:17); 2 September 2010 (08:19; 11:24; 11:49; 12:53; 14:18; and 3 September 2010 (09:44; 11:13; 11:59; 12:16; 15:29). According to the licensee the apology was scheduled around similar programming, or the most viewed programmes, on the channel.

  3.- The word “Rabwah” is present in the Qur’an and is considered a holy word to describe a place of paradise

  4.- In 1974, the Pakistan parliament adopted a law declaring Ahmadiyaa to be non-Muslims and the country's constitution was amended to define a Muslim “as a person who believes in the finality of the Prophet Muhammad”. Following this the religious practises of the Ahmadiyaa community were criminalised and they were prevented from claiming to be Muslim or from "behaving" as Muslims.


In Breach

Assan Na Kashmir
DM Digital, 20 July 2010, 15:30 to 16:30

Introduction

Assan na Kashmir was a one hour programme which discussed the actions and policy of the State of India in the disputed region of Kashmir. It was broadcast on DM Digital, a free-to-air general entertainment channel which broadcasts mainly in Urdu to the UK Asian community. The licence for DM Digital is held by DM Digital Television Limited (“DM Digital” or the “Licensee”).

The programme opened with a single presenter speaking in Urdu about the current international political situation with regard to the disputed territory of Kashmir (which is administered by three states: India, Pakistan and the People’s Republic of China). For example, the presenter commented (in translation from the original Urdu (-1-)):

“India is not prepared to talk on the issue of Kashmir. The Americans want Pakistan to enter into dialogue with India but India is adamant not to talk having killed 500,000 Kashmiris...”

“...India has 800,000 troops in occupied Kashmir committing atrocities. Kashmiri nation’s women, children, windows who lost husbands, mothers who lost their son, and you saw in the last two months young men – 12 year olds and 15 year old – Indian forces shot them in broad daylight…”

During the course of the programme, two guest contributors joined the presenter to express their opinions on events, policies and issues relating to Kashmir. The first guest, from the Kashmir National Arts Council, presented his views direct to camera in the style of a dramatic performance (in translation from the original Urdu):

“O people of the world! Listen to me…Come and see the atrocities being committed upon Kashmiri mothers, children and sisters.”

The second presenter was described as belonging to the organisation “Reformation of Muslims” and also presented a pro-Pakistan viewpoint. For example (in translation from the original Urdu):
 
“India is implicated in the terrorism that is happening in Pakistan; Mossad [Israeli secret service] and Ra [Indian secret service] agents are involved in terrorist activities in Pakistan”

Ofcom received a complaint from a viewer who said the programme included “very strong anti-Indian” content with no alternative view presented.

Ofcom noted that the subject matter focused on the ongoing dispute over Kashmir between India and Pakistan and the policies and actions of the State of India in the region. Therefore , it was Ofcom’s view that these issues were matters of political controversy on which politicians and the media are in debate and subject to Section 5 of the Broadcasting Code (“the Code”). This requires broadcasters to ensure due impartiality on matters of political controversy.

The broadcaster was therefore asked to provide comments with respect to the following Code Rule:

  • Rule 5.5: “Due impartiality on matters of political or industrial controversy and matters relating to current public policy must be preserved…”

Response

In response the broadcaster stated that the basic objective of the discussion was to bring International attention to an issue which has been accepted but failed to be “resolved”. DM Digital explained that “the discussion held in the programme was totally generic” and highlighted issues that were “real happenings”.

The broadcaster further commented that the presenter did not aim to offend viewers: “he just wanted to invite attention of the international world and British government to act as a mediator in resolving the issue in a peaceful manner”.

Decision

The Communications Act 2003, as set out in the Broadcasting Code, requires that due impartiality must be preserved by broadcasters in all matters of political or industrial controversy.

In reaching this decision Ofcom must also take into account the fact that broadcasters have a right to freedom of expression which gives the broadcaster a right to transmit and the audience a right to receive creative material, information and ideas without interference from a public body, but subject to restrictions prescribed by law and necessary in a democratic society. This is set out in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Therefore, although broadcasters and viewers have this right, it is the responsibility of the broadcasters to ensure that the material they transmit is in accordance with the general law and the Code.

It should be noted that the importance of freedom of expression is considered to be at its highest in relation to political matters, including the manner of expression exercised by journalists in relation to political matters. The European Convention states:

“The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed in law and are necessary for a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others…”

In carrying out its duties Ofcom must therefore balance the right to freedom of expression on one hand with the need to preserve due impartiality. Therefore whilst the Code does not prohibit broadcasters from exercising the editorial freedom to discuss any controversial subject, or include a particular point of view within a programme, it must do so in a way which ensures compliance with the Code. In applying these Rules Ofcom takes account of the fact that they act to some degree to limit freedom of expression by ensuring that in certain circumstances broadcasters are under an obligation to some extent not to favour one side over another.

Rule 5.5
The programme Assan Na Kashmir featured one presenter and two guest presenters who all expressed a pro-Muslim and anti-Indian view regarding the disputed region of Kashmir. In addition to the comments set out above the following statements are further examples of the nature of the content of the programme (in translation from the original Urdu):

“Viewers sitting in your homes, its your duty, as Kashmiris, Muslims and humans, to raise voice against the humiliation of humanity being done by Indian forces, martyring kids aged 10 to 12 who don’t have rifles, they only protest through voice…”

“India is conducting state terrorism in Kashmir but the world is not raising its voice”

“Half a million Kashmiris have given their lives but though they are not of this world, they are alive…their coming generations will not let this issue die and they will continue to struggle”

With reference to the content, Ofcom considered that the programme included only one viewpoint. This viewpoint was overtly and consistently critical of the policies of the State of India in the disputed region of Kashmir. Throughout the whole programme, no alternative opinion (which could be adequately considered to be supportive of, or which sought to explain, the actions and policies of the State of India in relation to Kashmir) was included.

Indeed, Ofcom noted with some concern that, in its response DM Digital argued that the programme as it was broadcast was legitimate because the discussion was about “bringing attention” to the world about a series of “real happenings”. The broadcasters appeared to have little understanding of the requirement to apply Rule 5.5: firstly, in terms of identifying the material as concerning a matter of political or industrial controversy or matter relating to current public policy; and secondly, ensuring that the programme adequately represented the State of India’s position regarding Kashmir. Nor did the broadcaster provide any evidence of alternative views across a series of programmes taken as a whole (i.e more than one programme on the same service, dealing with the same issue which are editorially linked and aimed at a like audience). Ofcom therefore considered that the programme was in breach of Rule 5.5.

It is central to the right to freedom of expression that broadcasters can produce discussion style programmes on sensitive and controversial topics like Kashmir. However, in doing so they must, if necessary, have regard to the requirements of due impartiality under the Code. In fulfilling the requirements of due impartiality set out in the Communications Act 2003 and Code it may be necessary to ensure that alternative viewpoints are adequately represented.

In this case, Ofcom concluded that such a viewpoint (namely the position of the State of India regarding Kashmir) was not adequately represented in the programme or over a series of programmes taken as a whole and therefore the broadcaster breached Rule 5.5.

We consider that the breach in this case is not so serious or repeated to merit being considered for imposition of a statutory sanction. However, Ofcom remains concerned about DM Digital Television Limited’s understanding and compliance processes in relation to Secton Five of the Code. Therefore, DM Digital Television Limited will be required to attend a meeting with the regulator to explain and discuss its compliance processes further in this area.

Breach of Rule 5.5

Footnotes:

  1.- Ofcom commissioned an independent translator to review the whole programme and make word for word translations of relevant segments


In Breach

The Da Vinci Treasure
Syfy, 15 August 2010, 11:00

Introduction

Syfy is a channel that features science fiction, fantasy, horror and paranormal programming. It is available on satellite and cable platforms. A film titled The Da Vinci Treasure was broadcast at 11:00 on a Sunday morning. Ofcom received one complaint about the broadcast of the words “fuck” and “fucking” during this programme when shown on the Syfy service. The licence for the Syfy service is held by Sci-Fi Channel Europe LLC (“Sci-Fi Channel Europe”).

Ofcom asked Universal Sci-Fi Channel Europe for its comments under Rule 1.14 (the most offensive language must not be broadcast before the watershed) of the Code.

Response

Sci-Fi Channel Europe apologised and explained that the programme was broadcast in error. Sci-Fi Channel Europe explained there had been a breakdown in communications concerning requests for the daytime and post-watershed versions of the film, which resulted in the post-watershed version being incorrectly scheduled.

Sci-Fi Channel Europe outlined the steps it took when it became aware of the broadcast of the offensive language. These included: immediately removing the programme from their schedules; writing to a complainant that had contacted them directly; and introducing further compliance checks to address the risk of the error being repeated.

Decision

Ofcom research on offensive language (-1-) identified that the word “fuck” and its derivatives are considered by viewers to be very offensive and unacceptable before the watershed. Ofcom notes Sci-Fi Channel Europe’s apology; and the action it has taken since it became aware of the transmission to improve compliance. However, Rule 1.14 of the Code states unequivocally that “the most offensive language must not be broadcast before the watershed…”. Therefore the broadcast of “fuck” and its derivatives in this instance is a clear breach of Rule 1.14.

Breach of Rule 1.14

Footnotes:

  1.- Audience attitudes towards offensive language on television and radio, August 2010 (http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/binaries/research/tv-research/offensive-lang.pdf)


In Breach

Off Set
TCM, 24 July 2010, 12:20

Introduction

Off Set is a programme that features discussion with famous faces from Hollywood. The show typically includes behind the scenes insights and celebrity gossip from those inside the film industry. This episode featured an interview with actor Michael Madsen. During the episode Madsen relates a joke that includes the word ‘fucking’ in the punch line.

Ofcom received a complaint from a viewer who objected to strong language being broadcast at this time of day when their young children were present. The licence for TCM is held by Turner Entertainement Networks International Limited (“Turner Entertainment”). Ofcom wrote to Turner Entertainment for comments with regard to Rule 1.14 (the most offensive language must not be broadcast before the watershed).

Response

Turner Entertainment explained that the programme had originally been given a post-watershed restriction in order to comply with the Code. Unfortunately a technical problem resulted in some scheduling restrictions being wiped from its systems and as a result this programme was wrongly made available for pre-watershed transmission. It has now been removed from daytime schedules. All other material affected by the technical problem has been reviewed and scheduling restrictions reapplied as appropriate.

Decision

Rule 1.14 of the Code clearly states that the most offensive language must not feature before the watershed. Ofcom’s research (-1-) confirms that most viewers find the word “ fuck” and its derivatives one of the most offensive words.

Ofcom acknowledged Turner Entertainment’s explanation and the steps taken by the broadcaster to ensure compliance in this area in the future. However broadcast of the most offensive language in this pre-watershed programme is unacceptable and therefore in breach of Rule 1.14.

Breach of Rule 1.14

Footnotes:

  1.- “Audience attitudes towards offensive language on television and radio”, August 2010 (http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/binaries/research/tv-research/offensive-lang.pdf)


In Breach

Brit Cops: Zero Tolerance
Virgin 1 (Freeview), 18 August 2010, 20:00

Introduction

In this episode of Brit Cops: Zero Tolerance, the ‘fly on the wall’ documentary series, a camera crew followed police officers patrolling the streets of London in the early hours of the morning. This episode included scenes of officers on a drugs raid on a suspected cannabis factory. Ofcom received one complaint from a viewer who noticed an image on a poster, of two pigs engaged in a sex act with the words “fucking pigs” clearly displayed underneath. The licence for Virgin 1 on Freeview is held by Living TV Group Ltd (-1-) (“Living TV Group”).

Ofcom asked Living TV for comments under Rule 1.14 (The most offensive language must not be broadcast before the watershed).

Response

Living TV Group explained that this example of offensive language was missed due to human error. As a consequence, a number of processes have been put into place to prevent any recurrence of this problem. Living TV Group highlighted the low child audience figures for the programme and stated that, whilst that did not excuse or condone the inclusion of the language, they were confident the level of offence caused was minimal. Living TV Group apologised unreservedly to the complainant for the error.

Decision

Ofcom research on offensive language (-2-) identified that the word “fuck” and its derivatives are considered by viewers to be very offensive and unacceptable before the watershed. The Code requires that licensees do not broadcast the most offensive language before the watershed (Rule 1.14). The use of the word “fucking” in this episode of Brit Cops: Zero Tolerance was a clear example of such language.

Ofcom noted Living TV Group’s apology and the revised compliance procedures that have since been introduced. However, Ofcom is concerned given the number of fairly recent and repeated breaches (-3-) regarding offensive language by this licensee, and advises Living TV Group to check the adequacy of its current compliance procedures.

Breach of Rule 1.14

Footnotes:

  1.- On 3 September 2010 the licence for this service was transferred to British Sky Broadcasting Ltd and the service was re-named ‘Channel One’

  2.- Audience attitudes towards offensive language on television and radio, August 2010 (http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/binaries/research/tv-research/offensive-lang.pdf)

  3.- See Broadcast Bulletin 164 published on 23 August 2010 at:
http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/binaries/enforcement/broadcast-bulletins/obb164/issue164.pdf; and Broadcast Bulletin 140 published on 24 August 2009 at: http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/binaries/enforcement/broadcast-bulletins/obb140/Issue140.pdf.


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Related Items

a) Ofcoms Broadcasting Code (the Code) the most recent version of which took effect on 28 February 2011 and covers all programmes broadcast on or after 28 February 2011.

Note: Programmes broadcast prior to 28 February 2011 are covered by the version of the Code that was in force at the date of broadcast.

b) Programmes broadcast prior to 16 December 2009 are covered by the 2005 Code which came into effect on 25 July 2005 (with the exception of Rule 10.17 which came into effect on 1 July 2005).

c) Code on the Scheduling of Television Advertising (“COSTA”).

d) Other codes and requirements that may also apply to broadcasters, depending on their circumstances. These include the Code on Television Access Services (which sets out how much subtitling, signing and audio description relevant licensees must provide), the Code on Electronic Programme Guides, the Code on Listed Events, and the Cross Promotion Code.