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The Independent Television Commission (ITC) have published their findings in relation to complaints of offence caused by the ‘Brass Eye’ satirical programme dealing with media coverage of paedophilia.
The Commission noted that Channel 4 has a particular role in the provision of public service broadcasting. Its remit requires that it should have a “distinctive character” and that “innovation and experiment in the form of content of those programmes (should be) encouraged”. The Commission believes wholeheartedly in these objectives and supports the channel's right to produce challenging, original and sometimes disturbing material.
The ITC accepted that satire is an effective way of making statements about a range of issues, however difficult. Exploitative media treatment of subjects like paedophilia was such an issue. It was reasonable, therefore, for Channel 4 to commission the programme.
However, the Commission found that ‘Brass Eye’ was in breach of section 1.1 of the Programme Code which deals with offence to public feeling and goes on to state that “programme services are free to deal appropriately with all elements of the human experience but should avoid gratuitous offence by providing information and guidance to audiences, bearing in mind the expectations of those watching.”
The programme was also in breach of section 1.3 of the Code, which requires that “there be clear and specific warnings...where there is the likelihood that some viewers may find the programme disturbing or offensive”.
The Commission has concluded that the combination of the scheduling, warning and opening scenes taken together resulted in an unnecessary degree of offence to many people who had not been adequately prepared for what was to follow. It has therefore directed Channel 4 to broadcast an apology in relation to the offence caused.
The Commission concluded that Channel 4's decision in relation to what they recognised to be a highly sensitive programme could not be considered negligent or to have shown wilful disregard for the provisions of the Programme Code. Detailed correspondence had revealed the care and thought that went into assessing the suitability of the programme for a late evening audience.
But the ITC felt that the expectations of the likely audience for the programme, given its scheduling, were not sufficiently conditioned by the announcements, especially that which immediately preceded the programme, and left them vulnerable to exceptional and gratuitous offence.
The announcement was worded in terms which failed adequately to prepare viewers for what was to follow and might well have led them to expect, for example, a documentary. The opening sequence consequently took many viewers unawares. (CD)

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