Deadly Women…Discovery Channel fined 100,000 over violent daytime crime show

Posted: 21 July, 2014 in Ofcom TV Censor, TV News
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deadly women saeson 6 Deadly Women
Investigation Discovery, 16, 18 & 20 August 2013 at various times during the day

Deadly Women is a true-life crime series about female killers. Each episode, which had a scheduled duration of 60 minutes, relayed the crimes of three different murderers through dramatic reconstructions of specific crimes and interviews with experts in criminal behaviour, including forensic pathologists. It is TV-14 rated for US TV.

A complainant alerted Ofcom to graphic depictions of violence contained within an episode broadcast at 09:00 on 20 August 2013. Ofcom assessed this episode, along with another seven episodes shown between 06:00 and 17:00 on 16 and 18 August 2013. We noted that each episode was preceded by variations of the following warnings:

  • The following programme contains scenes of a violent nature which some viewers may find disturbing ; or

  • The following programme contains scenes of murder or violent crimes that have been re-enacted.

We had concerns about a large number of the dramatic reconstructions included within the series.

Ofcom considered rules:

  • Rule 1.3: Children must…be protected by appropriate scheduling from material that is unsuitable for them .

  • Rule 1.11: Violence, its after-effects and descriptions of violence, whether verbal or physical, must be appropriately limited in programmes broadcast before the watershed (in the case of television)…and must also be justified by the context .

  • Rule 2.3: In applying generally accepted standards broadcasters must ensure that material which may cause offence is justified by the context… .

Discovery apologised for the broadcast of this content. The Licensee stated that: We accept that some of the content in these episodes was beyond the expectations of a daytime audience, even on a specialised crime channel such as [Investigation Discovery]. The Licensee also said that upon being alerted to the original complaint in this case, the content was reviewed and then immediately taken out of the daytime schedule.

It said that all the programmes in this case had been from series six of Deadly Women and none of these programmes were intended for transmission in daytime . While all the other series of Deadly Women had been correctly certified as post watershed , Discovery said that this had not happened in the case of series six. The Licensee stated that this deeply unfortunate incident had occurred as a result of an error of judgement by a less experienced member of the re-versioning team during the certification process for series 6 [which] meant that it was accidentally certified as suitable for audiences with a low child index .

Initial Ofcom Decision: Breach of rules 1.3, 1.11 and 2.3

Ofcom considered that these programmes were unsuitable for children, and that a number of the episodes would have been likely to have greatly troubled younger viewers in particular.

Ofcom reminds all broadcasters to ensure they are adequately resourced to ensure all their programming complies with the Code. Further they must have sufficient resources and appropriate arrangements in place to monitor as necessary output as it is broadcast to ensure that if, as here, a compliance mistake is made the licensee has a reasonable opportunity to spot the error and correct it before broadcast. In this case, the Licensee was seemingly unaware that it had broadcast wholly unsuitable material before the watershed until it was alerted by Ofcom.

We considered that the repeated broadcast during the daytime of very violent material in the form of prolonged and disturbing dramatic reconstructions of torture, mutilation and murder resulted in serious contraventions of the Code. Ofcom therefore put the Licensee on notice that it would consider these breaches of the Code for the imposition of a statutory sanction.

The Sanction Decision

First, Ofcom found the breaches of the Code by the Broadcasts were serious principally because of the graphic and extended depictions of extreme violence which they contained and which were transmitted at various times before the watershed in the school holidays. The Broadcasts were unsuitable for children and highly likely to have caused distress to any children in the audience.

Second, the breaches were repeated in that this unsuitable content was spread across 8 episodes of the series Deadly Women, shown on 16, 18 and 20 August 2013. 12.

Last, the pre-watershed broadcasts were made in error and, by the Licensee’s own admission, in an entirely inappropriate time-slot . The errors were blatant and repeated over a period of 5 days. Ofcom considered that the breaches in this case demonstrated that the Licensee failed to ensure that it had robust compliance procedures in place.

In arriving at its Decision of the appropriate type and level of sanction, Ofcom also took account of the Licensee’s recent compliance record. Prior to the Broadcasts, the Licensee did not have a history of contraventions on the Investigation Discovery service. However, it operates a centralised compliance unit for all 73 of its licensed broadcasting services. Ofcom has found the Licensee in breach of the Code in relation to broadcasts on other licensed services, most recently, in relation to the programme Embarrassing Bodies (TLC Poland6, 25 July 2013, 14:00). This was found in breach of Rule 1.3 as the programme, which contained full screen images of an invasive vaginal examination, was unsuitable for children and had not been appropriately scheduled.

Ofcom’s Decision is that the appropriate sanction should be a financial penalty of £100,000. Ofcom also considers that the Licensee should be directed to broadcast a statement of Ofcom’s findings, on a date and in a form to be determined by Ofcom.

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