Ofcom's Annual Plan
April 2004 - March 2005
mediawatch-uk's response to the Ofcom Consultation
Who we represent
mediawatch-uk is a voluntary organisation, formerly known as the National Viewers' and Listeners' Association with members throughout the UK and abroad. Our membership consists of people of all ages, from all occupations and backgrounds, who are concerned about standards of good taste and decency, the overall influence of broadcasting, and the media generally, on the individual, the family and wider society.
It is very helpful that the Office of Communications has set out its plan of action for the coming year. This is a welcome innovation that we hope will continue in the years ahead because it provides a reference point for judging progress and achievement.
We note that the development of "measures which safeguard the public interest" (3.5.4) is included in the priorities for 2004/5 and it would be helpful if these had been elaborated upon.
We are concerned, however, that the "responsibility for making informed choices" (3.5.4) does not extend to broadcasters or programme makers who should be "informed" about high standards in their work and avoid causing harm and offence. The Office of Communications should set this as its first priority rather than place the onus entirely upon "citizen-consumers". This is a challenge NOT identified.
We believe that Ofcom's overall effectiveness as a regulator, so far as the viewing and listening public is concerned, will be judged on the programmes that are transmitted into their homes and on the findings it makes on complaints. If there is no improvement in the variety of programme genres, a reduction of low budget "reality" programmes and an improvement in general moral tone Ofcom will be regarded as an expensive failure.
Many people are very concerned by the portrayal of violence, very offended by obscene and profane language and very offended by the promotion of indecency across many genres of programming. It is certainly an expectation that a higher proportion of complaints will be upheld that was previously the case. In so far as these unacceptable aspects of programme content continue without sanction from the regulator Ofcom will be judged not to have succeeded.
Moreover, the plans to divert attention away from itself on to the broadcasters will cause people to wonder why have a regulator at all! We believe that achievements elsewhere will be undermined by failure in this regard.
For most "citizen-consumers" programmes matter more than the means of delivery or the evident competition between service providers. It is our belief that "fresh thinking" needs to be done with regard to improving standards of programme content and maintaining the improvements thus serving the interests of "citizen-consumers".
It would be helpful if Ofcom could have elaborated on the "new approaches to the handling of complaints".
We note that Ofcom has already started publishing Programme Complaints Bulletins and we welcome the fact that some complaints have been upheld. However, we believe that by failing to uphold complaints (Bulletin 4) on the use of obscene language will undermine public confidence in regulation.
We welcome Ofcom's stated "evidence-based approach to regulation" and we look forward to learning more about this objective. This should not, however, be limited to audience research in artificial laboratory conditions.
To be taken seriously Ofcom must take into account trends of behaviour in society. For example, how far does the constant portrayal of violence and crime on television influence criminal and aggressive social behaviour? How far does the constant use of swearing in some post 9.00pm programming affect language in society? How far does the portrayal of casual sexual activity contribute to the crisis in sexual health? This is essentially a very different, and perhaps, more meaningful approach than simply asking a focus group of hand picked respondents for their thoughts on a few well-chosen extracts from programmes.
It would be helpful if Ofcom's plan of research could outline methodology, also indicating who will conduct such "evidence-based" research. It would be helpful to know something about the "bias against intervention" and to know how this approach will operate in the "citizen-consumer" interest? Words such as "proportionate, consistent, accountable" really should be defined.
We welcome the stated intention to "consult widely and assess the impact of regulators action" and we look forward to hearing much more about this in due course. It would have been helpful if the undertaking to handle 25,000 complaints about broadcasting content had been substantiated bearing in mind that the first four Complaints Bulletins show that only around a dozen complaints have been processed. This suggests a very much lower annual rate of complaints. It would be helpful to have explained how such an undertaking fits in with the contradictory plan, currently under consideration, to divert complaints to the "broadcaster first".
mediawatch-uk very much welcomes the Ofcom's Annual Plan. Given that there is so much going on at Ofcom in terms of drafting new codes and carrying forward the inherited tasks, we wonder whether a monthly or quarterly newsletter/bulletin could be published for all interested parties highlighting some of the public interest activities undertaken. It could feature, for example, interviews with top Ofcom officials, up-coming consultations, the results of concluded consultations, the work of the Content Board, the Consumer Panel, highlights from speeches, analysis of complaints, findings and so on. This would be a valuable interface between the regulator and the public.
9 March 2004
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ifty years ago, what we called ‘effing and blinding’ was attributed to National Service. Innocent 18-year-old recruits were intimidated on the parade ground by drill sergeants who bullied them with language they had never heard before. Today, there is a different explanation for the explosion of four-letter expletives. They are part of the culture of triumphant ignorance - the belief that to behave like a yob is an indication of manly virility. As usual, when culture, life and language are downgraded the media must accept much of the blame. As my mother used to tell me, bad language is proof of a poor vocabulary. Language is supposed to enable us to express an opinion by the usual imprecations - f*** off and f***ing hell - convey very little meaning except anger and frustration. Many of the men who mouth four-letter words so freely have no understanding of the offence they cause. Nobody has told them they are marks of ignorance and intemperance. TV’s programme makers and regulators have misjudged us viewers. We should make our protest by doing all we can to persuade the young and innocent that they are just too good to follow Mr Rotten’s example.