Channel 4, 4 March 2012 and 8 April 2012, 21:00
Homeland is a [BBFC 15 rated] intense US drama series about a soldier, Sergeant Nicolas Brody, taken prisoner during the invasion of Iraq in 2003 but who is rescued and returns to America after eight years in captivity. A CIA officer, Carrie Mathison, is however convinced that the intelligence that led to Sergeant Brody’s rescue was suspect and that the soldier may be connected to an Al-Qaeda terrorist plot to be carried out in America.
A viewer alerted Ofcom to potentially inappropriate content – a sex scene – at the start of the programme broadcast on 4 March at 21:00. Separately another viewer alerted us to the fact that the opening titles of the programme shown on 8 April contained two uses of ‘offensive’ language at approximately 50 seconds and 53 seconds into the broadcast.
The sex scene was between a Prince Farid of Saudi Arabia and his girlfriend, Lynne, who unknown to the Prince is spying on his activities for the CIA. This scene was broadcast at around 21:07 and lasted in total about 18 seconds. It featured consensual sex between the couple and, because the two characters were covered by bed clothes, showed no nudity below the waist.
One sequence in the opening titles alludes to the fact that the Carrie Mathison missed an opportunity to intercept the terrorist attack in America on 11 September 2001 and how Sergeant Brody is questioning his actions:
Sergeant Brody whispering: what the fuck are you doing?
Carrie Mathison: Ah fuck. I missed something once before. I won’t, I can’t let that happen again.
On viewing the opening titles, in Ofcom’s opinion both examples of offensive language were not clearly audible.
Ofcom considered Rule 1.6 of the Code:
The transition to more adult material must not be unduly abrupt at the watershed (in the case of television)…. For television the strongest material should appear later in the schedule.
Ofcom Decision: Not in Breach of Ruler 1.6
Ofcom considered the sex scene broadcast at around 21:07 and had a duration in total of around 18 seconds. It showed the couple in bed having consensual sex and was largely filmed in wide shot. Since the couple were covered by sheets, Lynne’s naked breasts were visible but no other nudity was shown. When the sexual act was over, the Prince left the room temporarily and Lynne used this opportunity – at great peril to herself – to pick up his mobile phone from the bed and download material. The sex scene was therefore linked to the plot of the thriller.
Homeland is a series that dealt with complex adult themes including terrorism and international security, and their powerful impact on the personal lives of the characters involved. Taking all these factors into account, Ofcom concluded that the sex scene in context did have sufficient editorial justification, did not exceed audience expectations, and the transition to more adult material after the watershed was not unduly abrupt.
Rule 1.6 was therefore not breached.
Ofcom noted that the strong language was not clearly audible: the two characters whispered the words and jazz music was playing simultaneously. The language was not broadcast in a simple linear narrative but in a fractured montage of sounds and images. This would therefore be likely to lessen the potential for offence. The potential for offence was also lessened by the fact that the character speaking was not shown and the words were not aimed at an individual: our research suggests that audiences find strong language more offensive when directed at an individual.
Taking particular account of the almost inaudible nature of the content, Ofcom’s view is the repeated use of the most offensive language in the opening titles of a programme in this particular case would not have exceeded the expectations of viewers.
Ofcom reiterates to all broadcasters the need to take great care when considering whether to include strong language in opening titles immediately after the watershed because only limited context can be provided to viewers before they watch them and viewers may be more likely to come across the material unawares. Ofcom will only consider the use of the most offensive language in opening title sequences broadcast after the watershed to comply with the Code in exceptional circumstances, and Ofcom discourages the practice.