Can’t Pay? We’ll Take It Away!
Channel 5, 28 September 2016, 21:00
Can’t Pay? We’ll Take It Away! is an observational documentary series that follows the work of High Court Enforcement Agents ( HCEAs ).
Ofcom received three complaints about the frequent use of offensive language broadcast just after the watershed which, the complainants considered was not appropriate.
The pre-programme information provided by the continuity announcer referred to: 206highly offensive language in Can’t Pay? We’ll Take It Away! Then, following the sponsorship credit, a warning was shown with a voiceover stating: Be prepared for scenes of intense aggression and HIGHLY [emphasis in the original] offensive language from the very start and throughout, which may distress some viewers .
The first story in this episode, broadcast from 21:02, featured two HCEAs attempting to recover £5,000 from a man who requested that they should leave his property. From approximately 21:04, and for about three minutes, 15 instances of the most offensive language were used, which consisted of 14 instances of the word fuck (and variations of it) and one instance of the word cunt .
Ofcom considered Rule 1.6 of the Code:
The transmission to more adult material must not be unduly abrupt at the watershed206For television, the strongest material should appear later in the schedule.
Channel 5 explained that its usual approach to ensure compliance with Rule 1.6 was that there should be no offensive language broadcast in the first seven minutes of a programme broadcast at 21:00 to ensure that the transition to more adult material after the watershed was not too abrupt.
However, occasionally, and with regard to this particular episode, the Licensee explained that the editorial requirements of the programme meant that this position was varied. It said that it had permitted the offensive language on this occasion because without it, the severity and volatility of the situation and the difficulties experienced by the HCEAs in carrying out their duties would have been unclear and incomprehensible to viewers. Channel 5 said that its decision to include the most offensive language soon after the watershed was not taken lightly and that it had been referred up to the highest levels of Channel 5 .
Ofcom Decision: Breach of Rule 1.6
We acknowledged that there was a clear editorial context for the inclusion of the offensive language in the programme 203 to illustrate the type of challenging behaviour encountered by HCEAs in the course of their work. However, in Ofcom’s view, this in itself did not provide sufficient editorial justification for this material to be broadcast at the very beginning of the programme soon after the watershed. We took the view that, even taking account of the editorial context and the strongly worded and voiced warning, it was still unlikely that viewers would have expected the frequent use of the most offensive language in an aggressive and confrontational manner at such a short time after the watershed on a public service channel like Channel 5.
We concluded that the programme was in breach of Rule 1.6.