Monday, 11 May 2009

Media: Ofcom & the ITC programme code

The ITC Programme Code sets out the editorial standards which audiences are entitledto expect from commercial television services in the UK. It aims to ensure thatrequirements covering programme content which Parliament stipulated in the 1990and 1996 Broadcasting Acts are met, while allowing for and encouraging creativity,development and innovation.
To secure that every licensed service includes nothing in its programmes which offendsagainst good taste or decency or is likely to encourage or incite to crime or lead to disorder or be offensive to public feeling.
Family Viewing Policy and the Watershed - Material unsuitable for children must not be transmitted at times when large numbers of children may be expected to be watching.
The portrayal of any dangerous or harmful behaviour easily imitated by childrenshould be avoided, especially before the watershed, and must be excluded entirely inchildren’s programmes. This applies especially to the use, in a manner likely to causeserious injury, of knives and other offensive weapons, articles or substances
Requires that broadcasters take “appropriate measures to ensure that televisionbroadcasts… do not include any programmes which might seriously impair thephysical, mental or moral development of minors, in particular programmes thatinvolve pornography or gratuitous violence”.
Certification: No ‘12’ rated version should normally start before 8pm on any service.
No ‘15’ rated version should normally start before 9pm (or 8pm on premiumrate subscription services, contents permitting).
No ‘18’ rated version should start before 10pm on any service. This rule maybe relaxed if the classification was made more than 10 years ago and the film is nowclearly suitable for earlier transmission.
No ‘R18’ version should be transmitted at any time.
No version refused a BBFC certification should be transmitted at any time.
Pay Per View Services - Where security mechanisms, such as a PIN system or equivalent, satisfactorily restrictaccess to films or programmes solely to those authorised to view, watershed rules maybe waived.
Trailers and Programme Promotions - Viewers do not choose to see promotional material, so special care is required in scheduling. All trailers and promotions shown before the watershed must comply with Family Viewing Policy.
Bad language must be defensible in terms of context and scheduling with warnings where appropriate.
Careful consideration should be given to nudity before the watershed but some nuditymay be justifiable in a non-sexual and relevant context. Representations of sexual intercourse should not occur before the watershed unlessthere is a serious educational purpose.
Violence. It is reasonable for television to reflect this but it is clear that the portrayal of violence, whether physical, verbal or psychological, can upset, disturb and offend. Different types of violence are:
Offensive violence
Psychological Harm to Young and Vulnerable Viewers
Imitable violence
Cumulative effects of violence
Sexual violence
Suicide:There should be no more detailed demonstration of the means or method of suicide than is justified by the context, scheduling and likely audience for the programme.
Violence in News and other Programmes: News and current affairs programmes are subject, like any other programming, to the requirements of Family Viewing Policy.
Respect for Human Dignity and Treatment of Minorities -Viewers have a right to expect that licensed services will reflect their responsibility to preserve human dignity.
Ethnic Minorities-No programme should be transmitted which is intended to stir up racial hatred.
People with disabilities - There is a danger of offence in the use of humour based on physical, mental or sensory disability, even where no malice is present.
Public service broadcasting

Public broadcasters may receive all or a substantial part of their funding from government sources, either from the general tax revenues or from license fees. Public broadcasters do not rely on advertising as a source of revenue to the same degree as commercial broadcasters; this allows public broadcasters to air programs that are less saleable to the mass market, such as public affairs shows, radio and television documentaries, and educational programs. That public broadcasters do not chase ratings in the same way as commercial broadcasters can lead to the criticism that they are unresponsive to what their viewers want, but also to the positive claim that they can explore issues in greater depth and with more complexity than is possible in commercial media, and that they can present cultural fare that has social value but would not be supported by markets. It may also be pointed out commercial broadcasters program not for audiences but for those audiences which will buy their products.
Additionally, public broadcasting facilitates the implementation of cultural policy (an industrial policy and investment policy for culture). Some examples include:
The Canadian government is committed to official bilingualism (English and French). As a result, the public broadcaster, the CBC employs translators and journalists who speak both official languages and it encourages production of cross-cultural material. Quebec separatists argue that this is also a policy of cultural imperialism and assimilation.
In the UK, the BBC supports multiculturalism and diversity, in part by using on-screen commentators and hosts of different ethnic origins.
In New Zealand, the public broadcasting system provides support to Maori (native New Zealander) broadcasting, as a way to improve the opportunities, maintain the cultural heritage and promote the language of these New Zealanders.
Critics of public broadcasting systems argue that this implementation of cultural policy imposes the values of the public broadcaster on the populace. However, it can also be argued that commercial broadcasting has a bias for certain values or cultural forms, such as pop culture, militarism, culture bias, and consumerism.
Public broadcasting, and also some pirate broadcasting, provides a counterweight to the commercial media. Advocates of deliberative democracy argue that public broadcasting helps to maintain modern democracies, since public broadcasters can engage in journalism for its own sake. In wealthier countries public broadcasters tend to not be beholden to political parties or the government of the day. This is especially true where the broadcaster is funded by licensing fees and so, theoretically, not dependent on the government for any of its funding.

Future viability

The advent of digital age has brought about many questions about the future of public service broadcasting in the UK. The BBC has been criticized by some for being expansionist and exceeding its public service remit by providing content that could be provided by commercial broadcasters. They argue that the BBC can distort the market, making it difficult for commercial providers to operate. A notable example of this is the Internet services provided by the BBC. However, those who defend the BBC suggest that the BBC needs to provide new services and entertainment, to remain relevant in the digital age. Furthermore, there are also questions about the public service commitments of the commercial broadcasters. All commercial channels that broadcast solely on digital platforms do not have public service requirements imposed. After digital switchover many of these channels will have the same coverage as the analogue commercial broadcasters. This has raised the question of how the analogue commercial broadcasters, with their costly public service obligations, will compete on a level playing field with such digital channels. ITV has been attempting to significantly reduce its obligations to produce and broadcast unprofitable PSB programming, citing the increased competition from digital and multichannel television. Similarly, Channel 4 has projected a £100m funding gap if it is to continue with public service broadcasting after digital switch-over. As a result, Ofcom has recently been consulting on what direction PSB should take in the future.