Media: No death, please, we're British

Global TV and radio broadcasting from the UK is becoming ever harder to police. By Ed Shelton

SENSITIVE SCHEDULING it was not. Sunday evening family viewing time may not have been the best choice to broadcast the stoning to death of two Iranian police officers.

It was certainly effective. Two Iranians accused of adultery were shown being bound from head to toe in linen like Egyptian mummies, and then wedged in holes in the ground so that their torsos made rigid targets for the stone-throwers. A large crowd was then seen surrounding them and hurling stones that were specially chosen not to be too large to kill outright.

"We only showed a little bit and we warned viewers before that it was coming," says PTV's director, Mahmood Taghi Sarabi.

The broadcast led to complaints and, two weeks ago the Independent Television Commission upheld them. Guy Phelps, senior programme officer at the ITC, said the programme was "disturbing", "too violent" for the time of day, and "too extended in its treatment of the punishments".

The clash highlights the difficulty the ITC faces as it attempts regulation of the dozens of non-English-language channels based in this country. With digital transmission about to flood the airwaves, it is a problem that will get worse.

Phelps, who has a team of four, says the ITC is already responsible for more hours of satellite and cable TV than officers could ever watch.

"In this day and age, we could not watch all the channels without a massive army of people doing it - there will be more channels when digital comes. The key is to be in touch with the companies and to be reasonably confident that they understand the codes. The onus is on them to comply," he says.

The ITC must monitor the 41 UK-based foreign-language channels regularly, employing two translators (one for checking) each time it reviews a broadcaster.

The ITC works by investigating viewers' complaints and random testing of potentially contentious channels, but more channels will mean that such testing inevitably becomes less frequent, and transgressions like PTV's could go unpunished.

In future, Sarabi has said he would respect the 9pm watershed, but PTV was not just upbraided on its scheduling - it also breached the ITC programme code which states that footage of people being killed or dying requires exceptional justification.

The ITC will not tolerate exceptions at any time, and says that if the channel repeats the offence it could face a fine or even lose its licence.

The Radio Authority is in a similar position and is this year launching a special initiative to combat the problem. Asian, Greek and Turkish stations are among those that must be monitored, and the Authority is now putting extra money behind its efforts.

Janet Lee, deputy-head of programming and advertising at the RA, says: "London attracts a lot of people who are fleeing from conflicts in their homeland. They are here because they are outlawed back home, and they want to discuss the situation back home on the radio. We have identified it as something we want to spend time monitoring this year, and to put aside a budget for doing so."

For local radio, the issue is further complicated in that news broadcasts must be impartial in the same way as TV broadcasts, but general items must only meet the lesser requirement of not giving "undue prominence" to a particular view. For example, Cyprus could be discussed on London Greek Radio from the Greek point of view, but a news story would have to be balanced. "It is a difficult one to police," admits Lee.

Many of the complaints the RA receives relate to Spectrum Radio - a local London station that broadcasts to a total of eight ethnic groups. Spectrum has been fined five times in the last four years. The RA is currently looking into complaints that the station broadcast material that was "anti- Western" in its Arab broadcasting, and is seeking assurance that the material, which accused the West of collusion with Israel, was balanced with opposing views.

Hilmet Tabak, the managing director of Med TV, the Kurdish channel, is aware of the difficulty of the regulators' task. "At the beginning, it was very difficult for the ITC to monitor us because they were not familiar with Kurdish background and culture. Now they understand who we are and why we must broadcast politics as well as music and dancing," he says.

Med TV broadcasts to Kurds, most of whom live in Turkey. As the Kurdish language is banned in Turkey, the channel is not allowed there and diplomatic pressures have been applied to get the channel off the air here. The difficulty is that London is an international centre for broadcasting, in part because the UK has more relaxed regulations than other countries.

The flip side is that some channels available here are licensed overseas, as they would not be acceptable to the ITC. In the past, cable channels for Spaniards living here have shown bullfights, for example.

Generally, the foreign channels in the UK say that they respect the ITC's efforts. "If there were a regulator as honourable as the ITC in Turkey, all the Turkish television channels would be closed down immediately," says Tabak.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing