The shooting dead of Mehwish Arshad (pictured) in Faisalabad in Pakistan was shown repeatedly on a TV channel in Britain at 3pm during a 45 minute broadcast in June 2018. The murderer of the 19-year-old bus hostess was Umar Daraz – a guard working for a different bus company – who allegedly killed her because she refused to marry him. Not surprisingly Ofcom (Broadcast Bulletin 368) found the channel, Samaa (a Pakistan-based news and entertainment channel in Urdu serving the Pakistani community) breached Rule 2.3 of the Code (offensive material must be justified by the context).

To make the channel sit up and listen, Ofcom threatened to consider a sanction if anything similar happened again (there had been a similar breach on the same channel around five years before). Sadly experience has shown Ofcom that compliance in a number of ethnic minority channels is weak, and the menace of strong regulatory action is necessary to make them improve.

There has been a long tradition in British broadcasting that ‘point of death’ material should never be shown. As Ofcom points out this is NOT because of Ofcom rules. ‘Point of death’ material CAN in theory be broadcast but it needs very, very strong justification by context eg only well after the 9pm watershed, adequate warnings to viewers, and not be at all gratuitous. My advice – best to avoid, or take very careful compliance advice.

Following concerns in my last blog about Ofcom not paying enough respect to freedom of expression, I was pleased to see that Channel 5’s Can’t Pay? We’ll Take it Away! finally won one of its long-standing battles about privacy with the regulator. In the latest Bulletin Ofcom did not uphold a privacy complaint made by a manager of a commercial property, Ram Ladsawut, when he was filmed by two High Court Enforcement Agents (“HCEAs”) wearing bodycameras. As readers of my blog (there may hopefully be a few) know, Ofcom has consistently ruled against Channel on many similar complaints. The programme was broadcast in June 2017 so there was clearly quite a lengthy tussle between Ofcom and Channel 5 (and probably I guess within Ofcom) about the final result of this case.

So what was new about this one? In short, that although the complainant had a legitimate expectation of privacy it was quite limited (nothing personal or sensitive about him was revealed), and as a result was outweighed by the competing right to freedom of expression. Also significant in my view was that the HCEAs were not enforcing the writ against Mr Ladsawut himself but a tenant of the building he managed.

An important section of the decision deals with surreptitious filming. Ofcom ruled there was surreptitious filming in this case and it was NOT warranted (see Practice 8.13). But very significantly the decision goes on to say that this only leads to a breach of the Ofcom Code if it results in an unwarranted infringement of privacy. There was not in this case. This section of the decision will gladden the hearts of British broadcasters who are worried that the regulator is cracking down on surreptitious filming – whatever the justification and results.

So as we enter the Christmas holidays, a modest freedom of expression gift from Ofcom to British broadcasters. A Merry Christmas to all readers of this blog!