ITV Central breaches Broadcasting Code

Central Tonight the local news programme from ITV Central in the Midlands has been reprimanded by television regulator Ofcom.

During a broadcast of the half hour news programme, broadcast on 2 May, a report on the company River Canal Rescue has been deemed to breach the broadcasting code.

Comments made within the piece lead to a viewer complaining to Ofcom that the news item was a “blatant advert” for RCR. ITV Central told Ofcom that the feature had not been broadcast in return for payment or other valuable consideration, adding that “all costs incurred in producing the report were paid by ITV.”

The offending comments within the report include ITV Central describing RCR as “the AA of the waterways” and “the only company in the country offering breakdown cover for boaters”, as well as …River Canal Rescue … have more than 400 engineers on call across the country, covering three thousand miles of waterway, twenty-four hours a day”.

The report also contained an RCR customer offering her personal endorsement of the company “There‟s usually something during a season that goes wrong, but at least you know that, wherever you are, they‟re a phone call away, so you can relax in the knowledge that somebody that knows what they‟re doing will be out and sort your problem out for you.”

In defence ITV Central stated, “The bank holiday period at the end of April is one of the busiest times on the waterways, and the canals in the Midlands form a major part of the leisure and tourism in the region, narrowboating being a popular pastime there. For these reasons, the Central News team thought a story about narrowboating, the safety issues it can raise and the unique work a local company does in this area would be of interest to its viewers.”

ITV Central said its news team had been mindful of Code requirements concerning commercial references on television and a number of edits had been made “to reduce the number of times RCR and its logo were referred to and to ensure that information given about the company was factual”, not promotional.

Ofcom feel that “The celebration of a unique local business‟s tenth anniversary may provide editorial justification for a report in a local news programme, especially where it is associated with a popular local leisure activity, such as boating. In this instance, however, Ofcom does not consider that the report merely addressed “narrowboating, the safety issues it can raise and the unique work a local company does in [the] area”, as ITV Central‟s news team intended. Ofcom considers that visual references to RCR‟s name and logo were appropriately limited and the regulator accepted that the report did not refer to the featured company in superlatives or provide significant detail of its cover or its prices.

However the comments within the report Ofcom feel were typical of those generally used for promotional purposes in advertisements. Given the brevity of the report, together with the nature of the above comments, Ofcom considered it promoted RCR‟s services in programming, in breach of Rule 9.4 of the Ofcom Code. Further, even though the locally-based business‟s tenth anniversary may have provided some editorial justification for being a news item, the report itself appeared principally to promote RCR, given the manner in which the above references to it were made. These references were therefore unduly prominent in programming, in breach of Rule 9.5 of the Code.

Central News launched in January 1982, taking over from ATV Today, the ATV local news being the first regular regional news service in the UK launching in 1956.