Ofcom censures C4 over ‘Big Brother’

Channel criticised for live footage of 'fight night'

In its latest report, Ofcom, the broadcasting regulator, has criticised Channel Four for its handling of the outbreak of violence in the Big Brother house in June, although it rejected other criticisms of the broadcaster over the series.

During the last series of the programme, two of the contestants were apparently ‘evicted’ from the show, but in fact stayed in an adjacent room, watching and listening to what their fellow contestants had to say about them.  Their return sparked arguments, leading to verbal abuse, threats, physical confrontation and some destruction of property.  Security guards were called in and the housemates separated.

Ofcom held that the delay of 20 minutes between the fighting and security guards being called in caused distress and offence to visitors, which was compounded by the running of jovial text messages across the bottom of the screen.  The regulator found that “the intensity and repetition of verbal and physical violence exceeded viewers’ expectations” and that the live broadcast was in breach of section 1.1 (General Offence) of the Programme Code.

Channel 4 responded to the decision in a statement: “Although these were not comfortable scenes to watch, the producers decided that the events in the house should be relayed to viewers until the shouting had abated to reassure viewers that the outcome was not as bad as they might otherwise have imagined.  Ofcom took a different view and we must accept their decision.”

However, the regulator rejected a number of complaints about the programme.  The highlights programme broadcast the evening after the incident was found to have been appropriately edited and scheduled and not in breach of the code.  Also rejected were complaints that some of the contestants were being exploited by the situation.

Unrelated complaints about sexual content and language in Big Brother were rejected by Ofcom given the programme’s scheduling well after the watershed, its well-known nature, the use of appropriate warnings and editorial rationale.