Supplementary written evidence from Ofcom (OAP 01)

 

Ref: Ofcom Annual Plan evidence - 1 December 2009

 

When Ed Richards and I appeared before your committee last week to discuss Ofcom's Annual Plan 2009/10 we agreed to provide some more detail on a number of issues.

 

Broadcasting fines

 

Mike Hall MP asked for details on broadcasting fines issued in 2009. Below is a table setting out all fines for breaches of the Broadcasting Code so far this year.

 

Broadcaster

Fine

Case

ITV plc

20,000 on each 11 regional licensees i.e. 220,000 in total

Failure on Out of London quotas

Stv Central, STV North, UTV plc and Channel Television

5,000

Failure on Out of London quotas

Playboy TV

22,500

Explicit sexual content that was on free-to-air services

BBC Radio 2

150,000

Two editions of The Russell

Brand Show which contained offensive material relating to the actor Andrew Sachs and his granddaughter, and content which unwarrantably infringed their privacy.

RHF Productions Ltd. and Portland Enterprises

25,000 and 27,500

Sexual content and references to websites containing

content equivalent to BBFC R18-rated material

which could be viewed without registration

Lakeland Radio Ltd.

15,000

In respect of the broadcast of three listener competitions called Suss the Celeb

Channel Television Ltd.

80,000

British Comedy Awards

 

The X Factor complaints


Mike Hall MP also asked whether Ofcom was investigating The X Factor following complaints that one of the judges referred a decision to 'deadlock'.


We received around 1,300 complaints following the broadcast of The X Factor on ITV1 on 8 November 2009. The majority of complainants were concerned about an issue that arose following the 'deadlock' stage of that evening's round. At this stage of the contest, the two acts who receive the least votes in that evening's public vote compete to stay in the contest, with the judges making the final decision. On this occasion judge Simon Cowell claimed he was unable to make a decision between the "bottom two" acts. Instead, he reverted to the public vote, which had been strongly in favour of one of the two acts, the twins known as Jedward.


Many of the complainants alleged that, as Cowell had made clear his opposition to Jedward in previous rounds, his decision to revert to the public vote on this occasion, which enabled Jedward to stay in the contest, was evidence that the contest, and therefore the vote, was in some way "fixed".

 

Complaints about the general fairness of a broadcast contest's format or rules do not generally raise issues under the Broadcasting Code. When considering complaints about audience voting or allegations that such votes are "fixed", we assess them under Rule 2.2 of the Code, which requires that the "... portrayal of factual matters must not materially mislead the audience".

 

In this case, ITV's published terms and conditions for The X Factor make clear that the format of the contest at this stage involves a public vote to determine the "bottom two" acts, who must then compete for a place in the next round. The final decision between those two acts is then made by the judges. Therefore Simon Cowell's decision to follow the public vote on this occasion did not involve any contravention of the broadcaster's terms and conditions of the contest or the audience vote.

Having carefully assessed these complaints, our view is that there is no evidence to suggest that the audience generally (and more particularly, those who had paid to vote in this round), had been materially misled, on the basis of Cowell's actions. We therefore do not intend to proceed to launching a formal investigation of these complaints under the Code.

 

We have published a number of previous findings in the Broadcast Bulletin which illustrate how complaints relating to the general fairness of the rules of such contests do not raise issues under the Code. To date, this particular instance has been an isolated case of such complaints in this year's series of The X Factor. Therefore we are unlikely to publish a "not in breach" finding in the Bulletin specifically on this particular issue. However, we are continuing to assess other complaints about the series as we receive them, and may publish a finding on the series as a whole if the issues raised, overall, merit one.

 

Emergency text services

 

Adrian Sanders MP asked about use of SMS / text messaging as a means of contacting the emergency services, and I said I would come back with more information on registration.

 

There is currently a trial taking place to allow deaf, hard of hearing and speech impaired people to send a text message to the 999 service where it will be passed to the police, ambulance, fire rescue, or coastguard.

 

The service is open to anyone who wishes to register, whether or not they are deaf, hard of hearing or speech impaired. Registering is easy to do, and requires the individual to text the word 'register' to 999. They will then receive the Terms and Conditions in two SMS / text messages. When they have read the Terms and Conditions they send 'accept' in an SMS / text message to 999. Finally, they will receive a SMS / text message telling them that their mobile phone is registered or if there is a problem with your registration.

 

If the trial, which is being run by the 999 Liaison Committee, is successful then the services will be launched in 2010. So far there have been around 2,500 registrations - around 50 a day.

 

I have set up a meeting with Adrian Sanders MP early next year to discuss this issue further.

 

In addition to these points, we committed to keep you updated on the two forthcoming spectrum auctions and any changes in our proposed timetable, which we will of course do.

 

I have copied this letter to both committee clerks and to Mike Hall MP and Adrian Sanders MP who raised specific points as set out above. I will follow up separately with Ian Stewart MP on his kind invitation to speak to the All Party Community Media Group.

 

As ever, if there is anything else you would like further information on please contact me directly.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

 

Colette Bowe

 

cc. Peter Luff MP
Adrian Sanders MP

Mike Hall MP

 

December 2009