Going to the Dogs…Ofcom points out basic compromises that have to be made to enable investigative journalism

Posted: 9 September, 2014 in Ofcom TV Censor
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  going to the dogs Going to the Dogs
Channel 4, 12 June 2014, 22:00

Going to the Dogs was an observational documentary about dog fighting broadcast on Channel 4. Ofcom received 1,736 complaints in relation to the programme. They covered a range of issues but focused broadly on offence or concern caused by:

  • scenes of dog fighting and other cruelty to animals (the programme also included footage of battery farming, horses being killed and pheasant shooting);

  • contributors who were involved in dog fighting having their identities protected and not being reported to the police; and

  • the possibility that contributors involved in dog fighting had been paid for their participation in the programme.

A number of complainants also considered that the programme glamorised dog fighting.

Ofcom assessed the programme, which was of 75 minutes duration. It was a documentary featuring individuals involved with dog fighting in the UK, and discussing the moral and legal issues surrounding various activities that involve animals (such as battery farming, hunting and horse racing). In particular, the programme included three pieces of footage of dog fights that the programme makers had filmed. Each was recorded in what appeared to be a disused building, and the footage clearly demonstrated both the violence of the dog fights and the injuries caused to the animals involved. In addition, the programme also included clips from a video of a particularly bloody dog fight that had taken place in what was purported to be Kashmir.

Ofcom considered rules of the Code:

Rule 2.3: In applying generally accepted standards broadcasters must ensure that material which may cause offence is justified by the context. Such material may include, but is not limited to, offensive language, violence, sex, sexual violence, humiliation, distress, violation of human dignity, discriminatory treatment or language (for example on the grounds of age, disability, gender, race, religion, beliefs and sexual orientation). Appropriate information should also be broadcast where it would assist in avoiding or minimising offence.

Rule 2.4: Programmes must not include material (whether in individual programmes, or in programmes taken together) which, taking into account the context, condones or glamorises violent, dangerous or seriously antisocial behaviour and is likely to encourage others to copy such behaviour.

Rule 3.3: No payment, promise of payment, or payment in kind, may be made to convicted or confessed criminals whether directly or indirectly for a programme contribution by the criminal (or any other person) relating to his/her crime/s. The only exception is where it is in the public interest.

Ofcom Decision: Complaints not upheld

Rule 2.3

while the footage of animal suffering included in the programme was shocking and distressing to some viewers, Ofcom considered that it would not have exceeded the expectations of the majority of the audience for this Channel 4 documentary.

Ofcom also assessed complaints that viewers were offended that contributors featured in the programme who were involved in dog fighting had their identities protected and were not reported to the police.

We noted Channel 4’s comments that it is not its policy to hand over untransmitted rushes of programmes to the authorities. The Licensee also told Ofcom that it was a condition of the access secured by the production team that those involved in dog fighting would not have their identities disclosed.

Ofcom recognised that the protection from identification provided to the contributors involved in dog fighting may have been offensive to some viewers. However, in accordance with the right to freedom of expression, there are some circumstances in which journalists need to protect their sources to investigate and report on criminal activity. Importantly in this case, Ofcom also noted that the programme makers acted and filmed in an observational manner: at no point did it appear that any criminal activity had taken place for the specific purposes of the programme or as a direct result of the programme makers’ presence. Taking all of the above into account, Ofcom concluded that Channel 4 applied generally accepted standards and there was no breach of Rule 2.3.

Rule 2.4

 Rule 2.4 requires that programmes must not include material that condones of glamorises violent or dangerous behaviour and is likely to encourage others to copy such behaviour.

Ofcom noted that those individuals involved in dog fighting were given the opportunity to explain their reasons for being involved in the activity. However, as described in the Introduction, the sustained sequences of dog fighting included in the programme were unflinching and clearly demonstrated the grim reality of the practice. This was reflected in the descriptions used by complainants to Ofcom who described the footage variably as: distressing ; horrendous ; and, sickening .

We also noted that the programme included numerous references to the criminal nature of dog fighting. Ofcom therefore considered that the programme did not present a glamorised depiction of dog fighting and was unlikely to encourage others to copy the behaviour shown. The programme was therefore not in breach of Rule 2.4.

Rule 3.3

Rule 3.3 requires that payment may not be made to a convicted or confessed criminal for a contribution to a programme relating to their crimes unless it is in the public interest. Ofcom received confirmation from the programme makers, through Channel 4, that none of the contributors featured in the programme involved in dog fighting was paid for their contribution. We were therefore satisfied that Rule 3.3 was not breached.

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