Ofcom attacks 'Mail' for giving Rihanna the XXX Factor

The broadcasting regulator Ofcom yesterday issued an unprecedented rebuke to the Daily Mail for its coverage of the raunchy dance routines by Rihanna and Christina Aguilera on ITV's X Factor final in December.

The regulator received a total of 2,868 complaints about the programme but ruled yesterday that the broadcast – while being "at the very margin of acceptability" for a pre-watershed show – was not in breach of its code.

But in an unusual step for a body which does not regulate the print media, Ofcom criticised the Daily Mail, which had published multiple images of the performances by the singers. It accused the newspaper of exposing readers to images more sexually explicit than those in the TV programme, and claimed readers who had not watched the show would have been misled into thinking it more graphic than it was.

"Critics called on media regulator Ofcom to launch an inquiry into why 'disgusting' routines were shown before the watershed," said the Daily Mail in its article on a "sleaze storm".

In its report yesterday, Ofcom said that approximately 2,000 of the 2,868 complaints it received about the show were as a result of the Daily Mail's reports. "The newspaper coverage reported on concerns that the performances were too explicit for a family programme, and included a number of still images of the performances," it said.

"However, from a comparison of the images it is clear that the photographs that were published in the newspaper were significantly more graphic and close-up than the material that had been broadcast in the programme, and had been taken from a different angle to the television cameras. Readers of the newspaper would have... the impression that the programme contained significantly more graphic material than had actually been broadcast."

In reaching its decision that The X Factor Final was not in breach of its code, Ofcom said it had taken into account the fact that the programme had "a significant child audience".

Ofcom also sought to analyse the gyrations of the two pop singers. "The part of the dance routine which featured some gentle thrusting of the buttocks by Rihanna was in keeping with her performing style," it said.

In its earlier reporting, the Daily Mail predicted: "The show faces a big fine and ITV could be asked to apologise if it is found to have broken rules."

Ofcom did say that it would now be issuing new guidance to television broadcasters on programmes that were shown just prior to the watershed, but which were aimed at family audiences.

A Daily Mail spokesperson said: "We wholly reject any criticism, which Ofcom may or may not be making.

“The fact is that all the pictures we used were provided by ITV and X Factor’s official photographic agency– with the exception of one, which was an actual screen-grab of the show’s transmission .They gave an accurate and fair representation of the show. We also made it clear why we felt it was important to show them.

“Thousands of our readers had clearly been incensed by the programme before we carried the pictures. What we raised was the legitimate question as to whether these scenes were suitable for pre watershed TV and presented the facts in a fair and reasonable manner.”

Ofcom's analysis: 'Gentle thrusting of buttocks'

* "The part of the dance routine which featured some gentle thrusting of the buttocks by Rihanna was in keeping with her performing style, suitably limited and brief... and in Ofcom's view was suitable for a pre-watershed audience."

* "Ofcom noted that the choreography of the [Christina Aguilera] routine appeared to be based on the burlesque-style of dance. This was noticeable with the female dancers seated on chairs opening their legs, kicking their legs up, gently thrusting their buttocks whilst bending over their chairs and leaning onto the chairs to position their buttocks towards the audience. The outfits of some of the dancers were revealing, with limited coverage of the buttocks, and were of a sexualised nature because they were based on lingerie. The outfits, taken together with dance positions... contained sexualised elements... Ofcom concluded however that the performance was sufficiently justified by the context in which it was presented."

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