Annual Report

1998 Annual Report

Programme Regulation

All programmes transmitted by ITC licensees must comply with the content rules and guidelines set out in the ITC Programme Code. These cover matters such as violence, taste and decency, impartiality, fairness, privacy, and undue prominence for commercial products or services. In addition, the ITC regulates to ensure that the quality and diversity of programmes on terrestrial television services - that is, ITV, Channels 4 and 5, and of the output of the Public Teletext Service - conforms with the terms of the individual licences.

Alongside these continuing functions, the year included a number of particular projects - most notably, consideration of ITV’s proposals to make significant changes to the established weekday evening schedule, including the moving of News at Ten; the extension of masthead programming to terrestrial channels; participation in a joint exercise with the BBC, the Radio Authority and S4C to formulate new plans for party political and election broadcasts; the publication of the report of the Joint Working Party on Violence in which the ITC, BBC and Broadcasting Standards Commission (BSC) co-operated under the chairmanship of Charles Denton; and, among Code-related matters, consideration of issues raised by the ‘faking’ of actuality in documentary programmes.

Following a thorough review of the Code last year and consultation with the ITC’s licensees and other interested parties, a revised edition was published in January. The revisions were designed to clarify various points in the Code and give more specific guidance to licensees and programme makers in areas where difficulties had arisen in recent years. The new Code includes, for example, clearer requirements relating to the portrayal of violence, especially where there is a sexual content, and guidelines about the provision of on-air information about programme content. Other amendments include guidance on fairness to innocent parties, payment to criminals and on the use of promotional material.

TERRESTRIAL SERVICES

Channel 3 (ITV), Channel 4 and Channel 5 have to meet significant ‘positive’ programme requirements. On Channels 3 and 5, services must include specific strands of programmes and minimum amounts of time allocated to each of them. These strands are drama, entertainment, sport, news, factual programmes (including current affairs), education, religion, arts and children’s programming. The regional Channel 3 companies are also required to broadcast programmes of particular regional interest and in some cases sub-regional interest. In 1998, an average of 99 per cent of regional programmes was made in each region.

The regional Channel 3 companies are also required to operate a system in which programmes are ‘networked’ throughout the UK.

Channel 3 licensees must originally produce or commission, rather than acquire, a minimum of 65 per cent of programmes (including repeats); the equivalent requirement for Channel 5 was varied from 59 per cent to 53.8 per cent in 1998 to allow the channel to increase investment in fewer original programmes. In the case of Channel 4, the figure was 55 per cent. The amount achieved by Channel (including GMTV) in 1998 was 74 per cent, Channel 4 achieved 57 per cent and Channel 5, 53 per cent.

The national breakfast-time licensee (GMTV) is required to broadcast minimum amounts of programming defined as news, entertainment, sport, factual, education, religion and children’s.

Channel 4 is a public service broadcaster and is committed to the provision of specific programme strands. However, the Channel is intended to have a distinctive character of its own and is not expected to be a mass audience channel. It is required to provide for tastes and interests not catered for by the other terrestrial channels and has a duty to encourage innovation and experiment in both the form and content of programmes. Channel 4 is also required to broadcast schools programmes in term time and provide a full range of support material. Work initiated last year to strengthen and update the terms of the Channel 4 licence, including a public consultation exercise, resulted in the issue of a revised licence for the Channel in February. Changes included increased levels of original and regional production, and enhanced commitments in a number of programme and programme-related areas, including for multicultural programmes.

Other important licence conditions which apply to Channels 3, 4 and 5 cover requirements for material of European origin (a majority of the transmission time for certain categories of programmes) and that at least 25 per cent of qualifying programmes broadcast are made by independent producers. The figures achieved in 1998 by regional Channel 3 licensees, GMTV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 respectively were 69, 80, 62 and 51 per cent; and 33, 53, 88 and 69 per cent.

Last year marked the point in time by which at least 50 per cent of all programmes on ITV were required to be subtitled for the deaf and hard of hearing. This proportion rises to 80 per cent by the year 2004. The figure actually achieved in 1998 was 61 per cent.

In 1997, having already surpassed the minimum target of 50 per cent a year ahead of schedule, Channel 4 achieved a further increase in 1998 to 60 per cent. This was a voluntary agreement under which Channel 4 undertook to match the amount of subtitling on Channel 3. The revised licence conditions have formalised this by the inclusion of the target of 80 per cent in 2004.

With regard to Channel 5, at least 50 per cent of all programmes must be subtitled by the sixth year of the service. The target for 1998 of 27 per cent was met.

Monitoring Performance

The ITC does not preview programmes or programme items. It is up to the licensees to decide, within the framework of the Code and their licences, whether particular items are suitable for broadcast and at what time.

The ITC does, however, monitor performance to ensure that individual programmes and the output of each channel as a whole meet the standards and requirements laid down in the Programme Code and the individual company licences. These include regular staff monitoring of programmes (at the time of transmission or on videotape) both centrally and in the regions; viewers’ complaints to the ITC and to licensees; ITC audience research; opinions from the ITC’s 12 Viewer Consultative Councils (VCCs); and post-transmission data from licensees describing the type, duration and source of each programme.

Ensuring Compliance

To make sure that the licence and Code requirements are enforced, the ITC has a wide range of powers at its disposal. If a genuine mistake has been made in interpreting the Programme Code or where the Code breach is not very serious the ITC will intervene with the licensee concerned, where necessary offering guidance and recording an expectation that the offence will not be repeated. With more serious matters the ITC may issue a formal warning, require on-screen corrections or apologies, disallow a repeat, impose financial penalties or shorten or, in extreme circumstances, revoke a company’s licence. A Programme Complaints and Interventions Report is published monthly recording regulatory action and decisions taken by the ITC.

Major Regulatory Issues

Previously mooted - in 1993, very publicly so - but never formally proposed, the issue of rescheduling News at Ten came to the fore in the latter half of the year, as part of a wide-ranging set of changes to the shape of ITV’s weekday evening schedule put to the Commission in September. Central to these plans was the moving of the network’s half-hour flagship news programme from 10pm, a slot it had occupied for 31 years. This, argued ITV, would not only allow for uninterrupted films to run from 9pm, immediately post-watershed, but would open up scheduling opportunities for new drama, more factual programmes, a 60-minute current affairs slot and ‘cutting edge’ comedy. It was proposed to move the main evening news bulletin to 6.30pm, with a later 20-minute bulletin at 11pm.

NEW AND REPEAT REGIONAL AND NON-REGIONAL PROGRAMME TRANSMISSIONS ON CHANNEL 3* - 1998

  Time per week (Averaged over the year)
 

Hrs:Mins

%

Drama+

43:35

30.25

Entertainment

17:14

11.96

Sport

11:52

8.24

News

17:09

11.90

Current Affairs

2:54

2.01

Documentaries

4:13

2.93

Other Factual

22:48

15.83

Education

3:43

2.58

Religion

2:10

1.50

Arts

2:48

1.94

Children’s Programmes

11:59

8.32

Other‡

3:40

2.54

Total Broadcasting Hours

144:05

100.00

* The amount a viewer could see in any part of a region, excluding transmissions by GMTV Ltd of 23 hours 55 minutes per week.
+ Including feature films and TV movies.
‡ Including presentation time and Jobfinder.

NEW AND REPEAT PROGRAMME TRANSMISSIONS ON CHANNEL 4 - 1998

 

Time per week (Averaged over the year)

 

Hrs:Mins

%

Drama+

51:32

30.67

Entertainment

28:24

16.90

Sport

16:40

9.92

News

5:17

3.14

Current Affairs

4:47

2.85

Documentaries

5:46

3.44

Other Factual

10:24

6.19

Education (supported)

6:39

3.96

Education (unsupported)

3:00

1.79

Schools

8:04

4.80

Religion

1:40

0.99

Arts and Music

3:26

2.04

Children’s programmes

18:33

11.04

Multicultural

3:20

1.99

Other‡

0:28

0.28

Total Broadcasting Hours

168:00

100.00

+ Including feature films and TV movies.
‡ Including presentation time.

NEW AND REPEAT REGIONAL PROGRAMME HOURS PROVIDED BY EACH REGIONAL CHANNEL 3 LICENSEE

 

1998 Average Per Week (Per viewer*)

 

Hrs:Mins

Hrs:Mins

 

Required

Achieved

Anglia Television

10:05

10:49

Border Television

5:15

5:49

Carlton Television

8:02

10:09

Central Independent Television

15:21

17:43

Channel Television

5:37

6:09

Grampian Television

7:29

8:54

Granada Television

8:46

9:58

HTV Wales

11:43

11:46

HTV West

10:42

11:18

LWT (Holdings)

3:33

4:03

Meridian Broadcasting

15:47

16:11

Scottish Television

18:30

22:15

Tyne Tees Television

9:00

10:36

Ulster Television

9:44

14:15

Westcountry Television

11:08

12:04

Yorkshire Television

13:00

14:52

Total

163:42

186:51

* These figures exclude additional sub-regional programmes produced by Anglia, Border, Central, Meridian, Tyne Tees, Westcountry and Yorkshire.

NEW AND REPEAT PROGRAMME TRANSMISSIONS ON CHANNEL 5 - 1998

 

Time per week (Averaged over the year)

 

Hrs:Mins

%

Drama+

66:31

39.59

Entertainment

19:08

11.39

Sport

23:45

14.14

News

8:07

4.83

Current Affairs

4:20

2.58

Documentaries and Features

20:50

12.40

Education

5:28

3.25

Religion

1:00

0.60

Arts

0:28

0.28

Children’s Programmes

18:23

10.94

Total Broadcasting Hours

168:00

100.00

+ Including feature films and TV movies.

The ITC launched a public consultation exercise and commissioned extensive research from MORI to ascertain views on the proposals. The outcome of the Commission’s deliberations - informed by the findings, the likely benefits to viewers and an evaluation of the competitive challenges faced by ITV - was qualified approval subject to the following conditions:

  • no diminution in the funding, or in the range and quality of national and international news;
  • the scheduling of a regional headline service in the nearest break to 10pm on weekday evenings;
  • no diminution of ITV’s commitment to public service values, and for the more diverse range of programmes proposed from 9pm - 11pm to be delivered;
  • and the scheduling of an agreed quantity of 30-minute slots for high quality regional programmes in or just outside peak time on weekdays throughout the year.

The Commission will review the changes after 12 months and if there is evidence of marked deterioration in the audiences for news, ITV will be required to take remedial action.

The second significant regulatory issue of the year arose out of allegations by The Guardian newspaper in May that a Network First documentary broadcast in October 1996 was in some serious respects faked. The programme, entitled The Connection, dealt with the issues of drug trafficking and consumption in three distinct ways, interweaving material about the heroin cartel in Colombia with information on police and customs activity in the UK and commentary about public policy on drugs. The most serious allegations were that the ‘mule’ seen flying into Heathrow did not have drugs in his stomach as claimed; that he did not as claimed get through Heathrow but was stopped and deported; that his flight was paid for not by the cartel but by the programme makers; that what was seen as a continuous journey had been filmed in two legs six months apart; and that the man described as the ‘number 3’ in the cartel, filmed in a secret location, had been a retired bank cashier with low-level drugs connections, and was filmed in the producer’s hotel room. Such fabrications, if true, would be inconsistent with that ‘respect for the truth’ which the Programme Code specifically enjoins broadcasters to observe, as well as with the Code requirements for dramatised ‘reconstructions’ within factual programmes.

The programme was transmitted on ITV by Central Television. The Board of Carlton (the parent company) established its own enquiry with two independent advisers - a prominent barrister and a former Controller of Editorial Policy at the BBC - in addition to the Chairman of Carlton and Central. The investigation panel reported six months later. Carlton’s response admitted breaches of the Code in 10 of the 11 areas cited by the ITC, including all those referred to above. In the Commission’s view this amounted to a wholesale breach of trust between programme makers and viewers. The Commission imposed a financial penalty of £2m on Central Independent Television and directed the company to broadcast an apology.

The Guardian later alleged that another documentary made by Carlton and broadcast in September 1994, Inside Castro’s Cuba, involved a fake. This was investigated by the same panel. Promotional literature for the film had included claims as to the exclusivity of an interview with Fidel Castro which were questionable (to put it no more strongly) but no such claims were made in the programme or in on-screen trailers. The matter did not therefore fall within the scope of the ITC’s regulatory remit.

A Channel 4 programme in the Cutting Edge documentary strand, Rogue Males, (about young petty criminals in an inner city environment) faced allegations that some of the scenes presented as authentic were staged. Channel 4 published a statement admitting that to avoid the actual commission of crimes some scenes were ‘constructed’ but that in every case they were true to the spirit of the individuals’ lives depicted. However, in so far as some viewers had been misled, in the view of both Channel 4 and the ITC, these scenes should not have been included. The Code position on this point is quite clear: the use of dramatised ‘reconstructions’ in factual programmes is a legitimate means of obtaining greater authenticity or verisimilitude, so long as it does not distort reality. Whenever a reconstruction is used in a documentary, current affairs or news programme it should be labelled so that the viewer is not misled.

The consultation exercise embarked on at the beginning of the year by the ITC, BBC, Radio Authority and S4C initiated the first, wide-ranging review of the conventions surrounding party political and party election broadcasts since 1974. Since then, smaller parties have proliferated, elections (local, national and European) have increased, political coverage in the broadcast media has developed enormously and public attitudes to political rhetoric have changed. These various factors were confirmed by the consultation process which showed considerable public support for shifting the focus of party broadcasts to election periods. New arrangements reflecting this come into effect at the end of the year for a six-month period. These include a Party Election Broadcast series for elections to the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly, for the Local Authority Elections and for the European Elections, including new thresholds for minor parties.

The ITC participated in and provided the administrative support for a Joint Working Party on Violence with representatives from the BBC and BSC. The working party was set up in response to concerns expressed under the last Conservative Government and was chaired by the distinguished former senior television executive, Charles Denton. Over a 12-month period, the working party gave comprehensive consideration to a range of issues surrounding violent programme content and issued a series of recommendations for broadcasters, regulators and the Government. These included the adoption of a new statement of common principles on the portrayal of violence, recommendations about better information and clearer warnings for viewers, and a call for a national strategy for media education.

Taste and decency issues predominated in the final quarter of the year, as the autumn schedules on all three terrestrial services were unusually preoccupied with matters of a sexual nature. ITV’s treatment of the vice industry exhibited too adult an approach to its subject for transmission immediately post-watershed. A trailer for the series was also found to be in breach of the Family Viewing Policy by virtue of being broadcast by some licensees before 9pm. In Channel 5’s extended series on the pornography industry, the licensee wrongly assumed that limited pixellation of actual sexual intercourse was sufficient to ensure compliance with Programme Code requirements for nudity and sexual portrayal. Among the various Channel 4 documentaries on a sexual theme, one scene of consensual sado-masochism which, though it did not incur formal interventionary action, was on the limits of acceptability and a different example of explicit sexual imagery was found in breach of the Code.

CABLE AND SATELLITE PROGRAMME SERVICES

The large number of licences issued for cable and satellite services ensures that there is diversity of programming without the need to impose obligations to achieve the same result. Regulation is therefore restricted to consumer protection and, in general, the same Codes apply to these services as to Channels 3, 4 and 5.

Even so, there are some differences in the way that the Codes are applied and there are a small number of instances where different rules have been thought appropriate. Since a deliberate choice is made to pay to acquire multi-channel television, it is accepted that, in making this choice, the viewer also takes a rather higher degree of responsibility for what is viewed.

Some flexibility is accorded to services where an additional fee, or other arrangements, ensure that they are accessible only where an adult has made a clear decision to receive them. In such cases ‘15’ rated films may be scheduled at 8pm (rather than 9pm) on the specialist film channels and material of a more adult nature may be included after 10pm although nothing more explicit than would be found in videos classified ‘18’.

Special arrangements also apply to Pay-Per-View services that are now available on both satellite and cable with the Front Row cable service particularly successful. The operation of Personal Identification Number systems should ensure that every individual programme shown outside the normal watershed is specifically chosen, that children can be excluded from unsuitable material, and that billing systems inform subscribers of every purchase, making a time-based watershed largely unnecessary. Even so, films rated ‘18’ are currently restricted to screenings only after 8pm.

New digital channels

The introduction of digital transmission has not yet led to an explosion in the number of channels. So far, digital television has been largely restricted to an increase in on-demand films and, on satellite, audio music services. True interactivity and the growth of programme services tailored for particular audiences are still around the corner. Those new services that did launch during 1998 included music channels like UK Play and M2, several new Discovery channels, Sky Sports News and TV Travel Shop. Film Four launched on satellite ahead of the arrival of digital terrestrial and the new ITV2 service on digital terrestrial.

The ITC also licenses foreign language services aimed primarily, or wholly, at audiences in other countries. The most significant addition during the year was that of Wizja TV, a digital platform transmitting to Poland, operated by the American company At Entertainment and based in Maidstone. This launched with, among others, nine ITC licensed services including Polish versions of The Travel Channel and Fox Kids and original services offering general entertainment, weather, films, etc.

New cable services were restricted by the fact that the cable operators have not yet introduced digital services. Analogue cable audiences have continued to grow quickly but not fast enough to save Channel One which pulled out of all but its part-owned Liverpool service during the year while L!ve TV also closed two of its city television networks. Knowledge TV was another significant failure.

Interventions

For the first time the ITC felt impelled to give notice that it intended to revoke a licence unless steps were taken by the licensee to ensure compliance with the Programme Code. Med TV has transmitted since March 1995 and has always had difficulty establishing due impartiality in political matters resulting in a formal warning in 1997 followed by a fine of £90,000 and a further formal warning, relating to incitement to crime, early in 1998. Though the ITC recognises the difficulties encountered by the company in offering a Kurdish service the rules requiring balance and impartiality must apply whatever the circumstances.

The Christian Channel Europe has also been subject to a formal warning for on-screen fund-raising while the same intervention noted a lack of due impartiality in the treatment of political themes.

Two further foreign satellite services, Eros TV and Channel Bizzare, which included programmes breaching British standards of taste and decency, were notified to the Secretary of State at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport with a recommendation that they should be the subject of proscription orders under section 177 of the Broadcasting Act 1990. Eros TV was subsequently proscribed, as was Eurotica Rendez Vous which had been subject to an earlier notification.

PROGRAMME COMPLAINTS

The table on page 35 shows, by category, complaints received by the ITC in 1998. The total of 3,257 represents an increase of 13 per cent over 1997. Most complaints again concerned terrestrial services, although the number of cable and satellite complaints was more than three times the 1997 figure.

Complaints about political impartiality and unfairness fell, although the largest complaints postbag of the year (123) concerned alleged unfairness in an edition of Undercover Britain that investigated security at two gun clubs. The ITC did not uphold the complaints. Guns - this time airguns - were also the subject of 20 complaints about the accuracy of an item on GMTV. The ITC partially upheld the complaints.

Complaints about sexual portrayal and violence fell by 47 and 24 per cent respectively. Of the 177 complaints received about violence, the ITC upheld 74. Forty two of these concerned the two-part drama series Trial and Retribution II, which featured graphic imagery of mutilation unsuitable for transmission shortly after the watershed. The ITC also upheld 11 complaints about unacceptably explicit sexual material in three programmes in the Channel 5 series Sex and Shopping and seven complaints from viewers of the Living channel who found their viewing interrupted by the unencrypted transmission of a film from the ‘adult’ service, Television X.

Complaints about bad language rose by 26 per cent. A higher than usual level of complaint about Coronation Street included 31 complaints about language, though none was upheld. The ITC considered the use of language and sexual references in an episode of My Wonderful Life excessive in family viewing time and upheld 18 complaints.

The total of 1,260 complaints about taste and decency represented an increase of nearly 50 per cent over 1997. The highest postbag for a single programme was for the Thursday Night Live Special broadcast five days after the Omagh bombing. The ITC upheld complaints from the 47 viewers who found the programme insensitive. The series Vice: The Sex Trade also caused significant concern: 53 viewers complained about two of the programmes themselves whilst a further 31 objected to two trailers promoting the series. The ITC judged that the programmes were unsuitable for transmission immediately after the 9pm watershed, and that the longer of two versions of the trailer was not suitable before 9pm. Although the ITC did not uphold 21 complaints about the preparation and consumption of a placenta in TV Dinners, it sympathised with viewers who found the programme difficult to watch.

Scheduling and Miscellaneous complaints increased. However many of the complaints in both categories - for example 19 about the postponing of Coronation Street after The Big Match had overrun - fell outside the ITC’s remit.

In 1998 the ITC upheld wholly or in part 361 complaints (11 per cent of the total received) about 69 individual programmes and intervened, without complaint, on a further 15. Details of upheld complaints, interventions and programmes that attracted significant numbers of complaints were published in the monthly Programme Complaints and Interventions Reports.

TOTAL NUMBER OF COMPLAINTS BY CATEGORY FOR 1998

 

News/Factual

 

Fiction/Entertainment

 

ITV

Ch4

C/S*

Ch5

 

ITV

Ch4

C/S*

Ch5

Accuracy

86

27

11

5

 

21

2

2

-

Impartiality

18

26

1

-

 

-

-

-

-

Other Unfairness

145

215

19

10

 

82

6

3

2

Sexual Portrayal

15

11

5

6

 

41

13

18

12

Language

34

7

2

2

 

115

27

8

10

Violence

32

4

12

2

 

93

16

9

9

Other Taste and Decency

484

101

30

35

 

433

103

42

32

Racial Offence

21

9

10

3

 

41

13

4

1

Religious Offence

4

3

1

-

 

39

5

7

-

Scheduling

103

4

1

2

 

41

10

16

1

Regionality

-

-

-

-

 

-

-

-

-

Miscellaneous

92

19

202

3

 

91

14

53

-

Sub Totals

1,034

426

294

68

 

997

209

162

67

Total Complaints = 3,257

                 

* Cable and Satellite

TELETEXT
Text Services

Teletext Limited continued to broadcast on Channels 3 and 4 (and S4C in Wales) under the terms of the Public Teletext Service licence issued by the ITC in 1992.

The service called ‘Teletext’ provides a broad range of information in text form including national and international news, sport and weather as well as information on finance, education, leisure and entertainment, the environment and employment. Separate pages of regional news, weather and sports as well as local events and local information are provided for all 15 Channel 3 regions.

The ITC licence sets out the core requirements of the service. It specifies the minimum numbers of main pages which must be transmitted at all times in the different subject categories (news, sport, weather, financial information, etc); minimum figures are also separately specified for regional and non-regional pages. Among other requirements, the licensee must, in accordance with the Broadcasting Act 1990, ensure that the service of national and international news is of high quality. The licence also includes a specific section on dealing with complaints from viewers.

The text service on Channel 5 is provided by Sky Five Text Ltd. No positive programming or quality threshold requirements attach to the licence although the service must comply with the ITC Code for Text Services (see Regulation below). The service began in 1997 and includes news, weather, sport and travel as well as advertising.

Regulation

The ITC Code for Text Services applies to all commercial text services (except those on cable channels). The Code includes sections on taste and decency and impartiality as well as sponsorship and advertising.

ITC staff monitor the services and deal with viewers’ complaints where they relate either to the licence or the Code. The ITC formally intervenes with licensees where it believes that a Code or licence condition has been breached.

Other Services

Further text services are provided in two forms:

  1. Ancillary services provided by the Channel 3 licensees and Channel 4 within their own signal capacity.
  2. The ancillary services comprise special pages of text material which carry information about the television programmes on the corresponding main service.

    The information shown must be directly related to the television programme’s content and may include material relating to the promotion of programmes and the listing of programmes in the service.

  3. Commercial Additional Service licensed separately by the ITC, in addition to the Public Teletext Service, on spare capacity within the signal carrying the main broadcasting services on Channel 3, Channel 4 and S4C.

A proportion of the overall capacity is allocated for subscription or commercial use. The service on Channel 3 is operated by Data Broadcasting International Ltd (DBI) and on Channel 4 and S4C by SimpleActive Ltd.

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