Role of pre-warnings highlighted in Ofcom ruling

The UK regulator stresses need to prepare viewers ahead of graphic news coverage

Drummer Lee Rigby, of the British Army’s 2nd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, who  was killed in May last year  in an attack by two men in Woolwich, southeast London

Drummer Lee Rigby, of the British Army’s 2nd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, who was killed in May last year in an attack by two men in Woolwich, southeast London

 

This week’s Ofcom ruling on graphic news coverage of the killing of soldier Lee Rigby in Woolwich in London last May should be of interest to Irish broadcasters and the Irish regulator, which is currently preparing to redraft its code of programme standards.

Although the British regulator cleared ITV, the BBC, Sky News, Channel 4, Channel 5, Al Jazeera and radio station LBC of any breach of its rules in their use of mobile phone coverage filmed in the aftermath of the incident, it reminded broadcasters about “the need to give appropriate warnings to viewers” before transmitting material that might cause offence or distress.

Ofcom received almost 700 complaints, with complainants saying the footage was too graphic and distressing, insensitive and disrespectful to the family of Rigby and that it gave one of the attackers a platform to justify or explain his actions. Many complainants also noted the potential impact on younger viewers.

Ofcom said viewers would have “an expectation that news content will cover themes of a potentially disturbing or distressing nature”, but it expressed concern that ITV’s London Tonight, the first to broadcast the material, did not give any specific warning before showing footage four times on “a loop”, while the BBC and Al Jazeera also did not give explicit advance warnings.

The British regulator urged news broadcasters always to give explicit warnings before transmitting “challenging material” before the watershed and not to repeat potentially offensive material “in a way that some may perceive as gratuitous”.

Here, Ipsos MRBI research commissioned by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, has found that content warnings and watersheds are favoured by the majority of viewers and are “the preferred restrictions”. The BAI’s consultation process on programming standards is due to be launched shortly.