TV regulator Ofcom has warned UK broadcasters of the need to limit on screen violence before the watershed after upbraiding Hollyoaks for a scene in which a character was kicked to his death in front of a train.
The regulator also promised an independent report into the problem across TV after the scene of a violent confrontation between the character of Simon Walker and Brendan Brady and which resulted in Walker’s grisly demise, was found to be in breach of two key clauses from the regulator’s code. The independent report will be finished by the end of the year and published in 2014 but the regulator has already warned broadcasters to be on their guard.
Its note warned: “Ofcom reminds television broadcasters of the need to ensure that all material broadcast pre-watershed which features violent scenes is appropriately limited.
“Broadcasters should consider whether individual acts of violence within a programme are suitable, as well as where the overall tone is malevolent, menacing and threatening, that this also remains suitably limited.”
The stark warning came after Ofcom received a complain about the Hollyoaks fight which began airing at 6.54pm on March 19 this year.
Channel 4 argued that the violence was signposted by the continuity announcer and also by the action in which Walker, played by Neil Newbon, promised Brendan (Emmett J Scanlan): “This is the day of your reckoning.”
However Ofcom took a different view and disagreed with C4’s assertion that to call a breach of the Code in this case would represent “an unreasonable and disproportionate restriction on Channel 4’s freedom of expression”.
The regulator judged that the violence was “shocking” before holding C4 to be in breach of two key clauses from its code – those concerning excessive violence and showing material inappropriate for children.
In its ruling Ofcom accepted that the pre-programme information helped warn viewers of what was to come but said that it was insufficiently “clear” for younger viewers.
It also noted that 10% of the episode's viewers – 114,000 – were aged 4 to 9 according to official Barb data.
“For younger members of the audience, who may have been watching unaccompanied and who were not regular viewers of the long running soap, and their parents, the pre-programme information did not explicitly refer to any violence in the programme,” it said.
“Ofcom concluded that cumulatively the violent content in this sequence exceeded viewers’ expectations for a drama transmitted long before the watershed when young children were available to view and in this case were watching in large numbers,” ’it ruled.
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