Channel 4 censured for 'Big Brother' scuffle

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The Independent Online

Channel 4 was reprimanded by the regulator yesterday after it was accused of engineering a physical confrontation on Big Brother to boost ratings.

Since its inception, Big Brother has been dogged by accusations of cynical exploitation and cheap sensationalism and yesterday Ofcom added its voice to critics of the ratings winner. The media regulator criticised Channel 4 for not acting swiftly enough to stop violence between contestants on the fifth series, billed in pre-publicity as Big Brother gets evil.

Ofcom said it had received 328 complaints from viewers about a row which began after Emma Greenwood and Michelle Bass returned to the house from a secret bedsit, to the annoyance of housemates Jason Cowan and Victor Ebuwa. Police were called and security guards had to separate the contestants.

Ofcom ruled that Big Brother , produced by Endemol, breached the programme code with its live footage on E4, upholding 55 complaints. It dismissed 190 complaints about the Channel 4 highlights and a further 83 complaints about the participants' well-being.

Viewers, some of whom were so frightened they called the police, complained that the show's producers did not intervene swiftly enough, waiting 20 minutes to bring in security. They accused Channel 4 of engineering the alcohol-fuelled confrontation, which developed in the early hours of 17 June and provided a huge boost to ratings.

They complained that the footage was distressing and exploitative. During some scenes, the cameras cut to the garden but viewers could hear what was going on.

Ofcom said: "The apparent absence of intervention by Channel 4 to prevent the situation escalating to this point, having 'engineered' the situation originally, clearly caused distress and offence to viewers ...the intensity and repetition of verbal and physical violence exceeded viewers' expectations."