Written evidence from Ofcom|
Thank you for your letter of 24 November, seeking
Ofcom's perspective in relation to the Home Affairs committee's
current Inquiry into the important area of Firearms Control. Ofcom
takes the depiction and reporting of violence in the broadcast
media very seriously, and maintains an obligatory Broadcasting
Code dealing very specifically with what may and what may not
All broadcasters who have an Ofcom licence, as well
as S4C and the BBC (with the exception of impartiality and accuracy
requirements) are required to comply with Ofcom's Code. Failure
to comply with these rules can result in sanctions against the
This Code is kept under constant review. Ofcom regularly
conducts research to ensure that the Code remains evidence-based
and reflects public attitudes. With this in mind, we are keenly
interested in this Inquiry's examination of a possible link between
broadcast coverage of gun crime and an increased proclivity for
criminal behaviour. We remain able to consider amending the Code
and/or issue guidance to reflect any such evidence and ensure
that coverage of such crimes is appropriate. In line with our
statutory duties, Ofcom must seek to protect members of the public
from harmful and offensive material, but in a manner that best
guarantees freedom of expression. This encompasses the broadcasters'
right to transmit and the audience's right to receive creative
material, information and ideas without interference by a public
authority but subject to restrictions prescribed by law and necessary
in a democratic society.
The Communications Act 2003 requires Ofcom to set
standards for programmes on television and radio in areas such
as harm and offence, fairness and privacy and impartiality and
accuracy. These standards are set in a Code. After a full public
consultation Ofcom published its first Broadcasting Code
in 2005. This Code contains the rules that broadcasters must abide
by and is revised regularly and when necessary.
In terms of the areas which the Committee is investigating,
Ofcom considers the following Rules and Sections in the Code to
be key to ensuring that broadcasters coverage of gun crime is
responsible and appropriate:
SECTION 2: HARM
Rule 2.4: "Programme must not include material
(whether in individual programmes or in programmes taken together)
which, taking into account the context, condones or glamorises
violent, dangerous or seriously antisocial behaviour and is likely
to encourage others to copy such behaviour".
More generally, the following Rules require broadcasters
to maintain 'generally accepted standards' in the area of harm
Rule 2.1: "Generally accepted standards must
be applied to the contents of television and radio services so
as to provide adequate protection for members of the public from
the inclusion in such services of harmful and/or offensive material".
Rule 2.3: "In applying generally accepted
standards broadcasters must ensure that material which may cause
offence is justified by the context".
As well as the above, news programmes are further
required to comply with rules concerning due impartiality and
due accuracy (Section 5):
Rule 5.1: "News, in whatever form, must be
reported with due accuracy and presented with due impartiality".
Finally, Ofcom has rules set out to ensure that those
that participate, or somehow otherwise involved in programmes,
are treated fairly and their privacy is not infringed without
Section 7 of the Code requires that broadcasters
must avoid unjust or unfair treatment of individuals or organisations
in programmes. Meanwhile Section 8 requires that, broadcasters
must avoid any unwarranted infringement of privacy in programmes
and in connection with obtaining material included in programmes.
It is an editorial matter for broadcasters what they
include in their programming, as long as they comply with the
Code. Therefore, Ofcom does not decide the editorial agenda of
any broadcaster, or the level of coverage which particular stories
receive. Such decisions rest with the individual broadcasters
in the first instance.
As stated above, Ofcom must interpret and apply these
rules in line with Article 10 of the European Convention on Human
Rightsthe right to freedom of expression.
Your letter refers to the evidence of Professor John
Ashton, Joint Director of Public Health, Cumbria PCT and Cumbria
County Council. Professor Ashton appeared to make two points in
relation to the media:
(1) The Cumbria shootings would not have happened
if there had not been "mass media sensationalist coverage
of the Columbine shootings and these other things". He added
that the media coverage of the Cumbria shootings "will have
sown the seeds for another event somewhere else in the world".
Ofcom takes any such suggestion that there is a linkage
between the reporting of this or other incidents and further gun
crime extremely seriously. We are constantly alert to evidence
of allegations that broadcast content may have negative impacts
on society. Where such evidence exists, Ofcom will ensure that
the regulations reflect the evidence.
For instance, there appears to be some evidence that
the portrayal of suicide can have a negative effect on those people
who may be considering harming themselves. Ofcom took such factors
into account when drafting its Code and accompanying guidance.
Rule 2.5 states:
"Methods of suicide and self-harm must not be
included in programmes except where they are editorially justified
and are also justified by the context". (See Rule 1.13 in
Section One: Protecting the Under-Eighteens.)
In our Guidance
to the Code we state the following in relation to Rule 2.5:
"This rule reflects a continued concern about
the impact of real or portrayed suicide, and self-harm, on those
whose minds may be disturbed. Whilst it is always difficult to
prove causality, various studies have shown that there may be
a short-lived increase in particular methods of suicide portrayed
on television. Broadcasters should consider whether detailed demonstrations
of means or methods of suicide or self-harm are justified".
We are therefore very interested in the conclusions
and recommendations the Committee reach in this area.
(2) There should be a "code of practice"
for the media regarding coverage of mass shootings
As stated above, Ofcom's Code currently covers such
areas as "copycat" and the unjustified and inappropriate
glamorisation of violence. Further we are aware that broadcasters
take these issues very seriously. ITN, who produces news for
Channel 4 and ITV1, has its own guidance on violence and privacy
to ensure compliance with our Codes. The BBC also has its Editorial
Guidelines and says it took particular care with the material
it broadcast about the Cumbria shootings to help protect the privacy
of victims and their families, and the general public from material
which might be regarded as unduly intrusive or offensive.
Nevertheless, we will, of course, consider any evidence.
In light of this evidence, and if we consider it helpful to broadcasters
to ensure compliance with the Code, Ofcom would issue further
guidance to accompany of Code.
36 See http://www.ofcom.org.uk/tv/ifi/codes/bcode/ Back
See http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/broadcasting/guidance/programme-guidance/bguidance/ Back