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.

Arts and Entertainment Musical by Damon Albarn


Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment


film review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test