Pick TV, 17 October 2012, 18:00
Most Haunted is a well-established series which takes viewers to locations where in the past, according to the programme, there has been reported supernatural activity. The series is presented by Yvette Fielding and celebrity psychic Derek Acorah. The programme involves trying to film paranormal activity, as well as attempting to demonstrate possible paranormal activity through seances and possession by spirits at the location.
Most Haunted was last made in 2010 but repeats of episodes continued to be broadcast regularly on the Living TV channels and, since July 2012, on Pick TV, a channel which offers repeats of popular programming. Pick TV is broadcast free-to-air on all platforms. Sky holds the licence for Pick TV.
A complainant alerted Ofcom to this episode because of concerns regarding the suitability of the content before the watershed when children might be watching.
In this episode, Most Haunted investigated Chatham Dockyard in Kent where, over a number of years, there had been several accounts of malevolent spirits and dark evil shadows…wandering around as well as more benign ghostly sightings.
Ofcom provided several examples of programme content:
- Members of the production team, who were conducting night-time vigils in various locations in the dockyard, reported on their experiences of dragging sounds, doors slamming, changes in atmosphere and calling on the spirits to make themselves visible. These sequences were replayed a number of times.
- A scene of a seance in which Derek Acorah was possessed , firstly by a nine-year-old boy called Barney Little , and spoke in a childlike voice to say he had been treated cruelly and whipped by a woman called Lizzie . Secondly, Derek Acorah, who was then possessed by Lizzie , referred to as an obnoxious entity , contorted his face and spoke in a rasping and aggressive voice: What’s your name, leper? Bleeps were used to mask offensive language. In response to the Lizzie possession, one of the employees at the Dockyard, not associated with the production, started to cry because she recognised Lizzie as the person responsible for the death of one of the children who had resided in the building, called Isabelle.
- Rule 1.3 : Children must…be protected by appropriate scheduling from material that is unsuitable for them.
- Rule 1.27: Demonstrations of exorcisms, occult practices and the paranormal (which purport to be real), must not be shown before the watershed (in the case of television) or when children are particularly likely to be listening (in the case of radio). Paranormal practices which are for entertainment purposes must not be broadcast when significant numbers of children may be expected to be watching, or are particularly likely to be listening.
Given this episode included paranormal practices and was broadcast pre-watershed, Ofcom also considered the broadcast should be investigated under Rule 1.27 of the Code:
Ofcom Decision: Breach of Rule 1.3 and Rule 1.27
In Ofcom’s view, the cumulative effect of the malevolent nature of the spirits who appeared either through Derek’s possessions or were recounted in the experiences presented, and the repeated references to children being harmed, mistreated or murdered resulted in this particular episode being consistently dark and menacing. Therefore it had the potential to cause distress to younger members of the audience.
Further, while an adult may have picked up on the signposting throughout the programme, and particularly in the last five minutes, and concluded the programme was entertainment, children may not have understood this and could have been left feeling fearful of what they had viewed. Ofcom noted Sky’s view that because children aged 10-15 viewing this programme may have been fully aware of the nature of the content, the assertion that this programme would have been distressing to this age group is not correct . However, it is Ofcom’s view that even if children are old enough to understand, and also be scared by, paranormal activity, it does not necessarily follow that they are old enough to understand various statements made by some of the contributors suggesting this programme was for entertainment purposes.
Ofcom therefore considered that this material was unsuitable for children.
Ofcom was of the view that the nature of some of the content in this particular case (especially the nature of the alleged possessions by malevolent spirits and the fact they concerned children), and its scheduling in a teatime slot, meant it was likely that the expectations of viewers (and particularly of parents) of this channel at that time would have been exceeded. In the circumstances of this case the material was therefore not appropriately scheduled and breached Rule 1.3.
In this particular case, Ofcom noted that this episode did not feature any demonstrations of exorcisms, occult practices and the paranormal which purported to be real. We were of the view however that it did include paranormal practices, such as possessions and a seance, for entertainment purposes. Ofcom also noted that in this case these paranormal practices were broadcast at teatime, when children were likely to be viewing, and on Pick TV, which is a general entertainment channel. Consequently, in Ofcom’s view, a significant number of children could have been expected to view this episode. Therefore, in this case, Ofcom concluded that Rule 1.27 was breached.
Breaches of Rules 1.3 and 1.27