UK broadcast regulator OfCom dismissed complaints against nine TV and radio programs for airing graphic footage related to Lee Rigby’s May 2013 murder in Woolwich.
As iMediaEthics wrote last week, OfCom received 680 total complaints about the broadcast footage. The official OfCom Broadcast Bulletin containing the regulator’s investigation and report on the complaints was released Jan. 6. While Ofcom finished its investigation earlier, the regulator kept its findings private until the end of the trial against Rigby’s attackers.
The footage showed the aftermath of Rigby’s attack with one of his attackers holding a bloody knife and ranting.
OfCom summarized the complaints as the video was “too graphic and distressing, insensitive and disrespectful to the family of Fusilier Rigby, and gave one of the alleged attackers a platform to justify and explain his actions” Further, “many complainants also expressed concern at the effect that the content may have on younger viewers.”
OfCom weighed the complaints against three OfCom rules but cleared the programs of any complaints. The three OfCom rules are
- “material unsuitable for children must be appropriately scheduled”
- “offensive material must be justified b the context.”
- “radio broadcasters must have particular regard to times when children are particularly likely to be listening”
OfCom explained that its code doesn’t have an “absolute prohibition on distressing or graphic content” but that broadcasters have to be careful about editing and warning children and minor-aged viewers. Most outlets (five of the programs) issued warnings.
“Most broadcasters in Ofcom’s opinion gave appropriate information to the audience to help minimise offence to adults. However, in Ofcom’s view, with the benefit of hindsight, a few could and should have provided more information to viewers.”
OfCom called for news outlets to be careful about including warnings about sensitive content, noting that there was “strong public interest” in the footage. As such, OfCom ruled that each of the nine programs handled the footage “appropriately.”
Many of the outlets argued to OfCom that it was OK to air the footage because of public interest in the incident and the need to get the news footage broadcast in a timely manner.
“The extraordinary and unprecedented set of events (specifically the nature of the attack and behaviour of the alleged attackers after the incident) were of high public interest and potentially had wider ramifications for public security and as a major national news event,” OfCom reported. Further, outlets noted that Rigby’s body “was never focus of the shot” and “nothing was broadcast that could readily identify the victim, including any physical characteristics.”
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Despite dismissing the complaints, OfCom noted it advised broadcasters on “the need to give appropriate warnings to viewers” of graphic and sensitive information.
OfCom noted that ITV contacted it after finding a source with footage of the incident and before airing the footage. That footage, which was edited and blurred at times, was later re-broadcast by other outlets. iMediaEthics has asked OfCom why ITV alerted OfCom before broadcasting or if it was seeking guidance about how to handle the tape. We are awaiting a response.
The programs subject to complaints were:
- Iain Dale Show
- London Tonight
- Channel 5 News
- ITV News
- Channel 4 News
- BBC News
- World News Today
- Sky News
- News Live
What Warnings were Given
ITV’s London Tonight apologized to viewers just after airing the clip. “We do apologise for the graphic nature of these pictures, but understandably considering exactly what has happened today it is important for us to get an understanding of what happened.” Before airing the clips on ITV’s National News, the host advised “you may find some of the images distressing.”
Channel 5 News warned viewers before broadcast that the segment “contains graphic pictures from the scene which you may find distressing.” Later in a different report, Channel 5 again alerted viewers that the footage was “graphic” before airing it.
Channel 4 also warned viewers, “This is an important warning if you have children watching you may not want them to see what happens next. This is a major and extremely violent incident.”
BBC News Channel warned “we are about to show a short clip of ITV News footage, which we should warn you is distressing.”
Sky News used an “on screen graphic” that read “Warning: Graphic Pictures” and told viewers the report “contains a distressing image of one of the attackers immediately after the attack.”