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There's something very odd going down at Ofcom.

The Ofcom Broadcasting Code: Section 1 - Protecting the Under-Eighteens quite clearly states:

1.25 BBFC R18-rated films or their equivalent must not be broadcast.

In this case, why, when I have tuned into both The Adult Channel and Playboy TV, have I noticed: erections and spunk? That are not allowed in 18-rated films (porn, anyway - arthouse films can get away with it), and bump up the certificate to R18?

The Melon Farmers have similar questions. The two that really intrigue me are:

  • "Why does the programme code clearly state the R18 hardcore is simply not allowed, yet the adult channels continue to broadcast hardcore snippets that would qualify for a BBFC R18 certificate?"
  • "Why do Ofcom insist on encryption of sex works? If these were really constrained to be 18 rated softcore as per the code then they could be transmitted free to air. (Presumably it is the concession of the hardcore snippets that requires the encryption)"

The Melon Farmers smell a rat. As do I. As does someone on their forums, who wrote to Ofcom to ask about this. The reply he recieved back from Ofcom is illuminating... BUT NOT IN THE WAY YOU EXPECT.

I refer to your recent complaints about the content of certain programmes transmitted on licensed adult channels.

As you are clearly aware, the Broadcasting Code (Section 1.25) states that BBFC R18 rated films or their equivalent may not be broadcast on UK television. And I note your assertion that - in your view - some particular films may have included very brief shots that might have gone beyond what is normally acceptable in BBFC 18 rated sex works.

I am sure I do not have to explain to you that much of the material broadcast on the licensed adult channels involves films originally certified at R18, and subsequently cut down for UK transmission. The cut down versions are not subsequently submitted to the BBFC for re-classification - nor is there any legal requirement for them to be re-classified for television. In other words, compliance with the broadcasting code is - in the first instance - a matter for the broadcaster alone.

Ofcom, of course,is not a film classification body, and it would be entirely inappropriate for us to seek (and we do not seek) to usurp the role of the BBFC in that regard, and "classify" individual shots. Nevertheless, we expect cut-down films shown on UK television services to be broadly in-line with the national classification system, and not to stray into R18 territory. For that reason, we are engaged in a dialogue with the broadcasters to ensure that they are fully aware of their responsibilities.

In the meantime, I note your previously stated position that you are not personally offended by any of this material, and that you would - in fact - prefer to have access to much stronger material on UK television. In other words, your motives for making these complaints are not straightforward.

I am aware that a small number of specialist internet sites / forums are currently urging contributors to make multiple complaints of this kind for nuisance value - in protest at the continued restrictions on the transmission of R18 material. In such circumstances, Ofcom may take the view that such complaints are vexatious and/or generate an unjustified and greatly disproportionate burden on Ofcom`s limited resources.

Although I have responded to your complaint on this occasion, you should be aware that if Ofcom considers complainants to be vexatious, either due to their submission of multiple complaints or for any other reason, it is Ofcom`s policy not to respond to them.

We will, of course, continue to regulate the adult industry as appropriate and in accordance with our duties under the Act.

Yours sincerely

John Glover
Senior Programmes Executive.

This. Does. Not. Answer. The. Question. Not only that, but it's actually rather insulting - "not straightforward"? Patronising sods.As much as anything else, it's very straightforward. And they then say that they may completely ignore such queries in the future! Because they don't want to answer the bloody question, that's why. As The Melon Farmers say:

"The recent Ofcom programme guidelines make it crystal clear that only softcore as per that rated 18 by the BBFC can be shown on UK licensed TV. Yet Ofcom have been continually allowing snippets of hardcore material that would be rated R18 by the BBFC. What is more, they refuse to investigate complaints about this deviation from their own published standards.

One can only assume that they have agreed private, non-published guidelines with the adult channels. Presumably because keeping to the commercially unacceptable softcore guidelines would be a commercial wipeout for the UK adult TV industry.

Now, I think R18 material should be broadcast on UK telly. But what really worries me here is that Ofcom seem to be ignoring their own published guidelines - and then refusing to answer questions about it properly.

That is not something a body with Ofcom's power should be doing in a democracy.

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Ofcom clearly aren't doing their job here, and it's disgraceful that they feel that accusing their customers of an ulterior motive is somehow acceptable. Does a moral outlook other than Mary Whitehouse's make a complaint null and void? The very least they should be doing is giving each complaint equal weight: after all, Christian groups conduct campaigns similar to what they refer, and I assume they aren't given the same treatment. There's really no point in having guidelines if you don't stick to them, and are snotty to those who point it out.

By Tanya Jones
October 24, 2005 @ 2:39 pm

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