Close-Up: Live Issue - Should the state be funding TV shows?

Are Government-funded TV programmes clearly marked and unbiased, Matt Williams asks.

It came as a surprise to many when media reports announced last week that Jeremy Kyle is to host a Government-funded show shaming the jobless into finding work.

The idea raised questions about whether public money should be spent raising the profile of a man whose chat show features themes such as "I'm a binge-drinker and a drug dealer, but I'll be a great Dad!", and also whether the Government should be funding TV shows in the first place.

Accusations levelled at Government-funded programming questioned the shows' objectivity and asked whether the documentaries made it obvious enough to viewers that they were funded by the state.

Ofcom recently announced that it was investigating ITV's Government-funded Beat: Life on the Street show, amid claims that the documentary was in breach of broadcasting codes.

And Sky has also this week handed back the Home Office's £400,000 contribution to its new fly-on-the-wall series UK Border Force in an attempt to avoid any controversy that may have come from the investment.

However, Mark Boyd, the head of content at Bartle Bogle Hegarty, says that the issue has been blown out of proportion: "Government and state involvement in the media is as old as the state and the media, and this isn't just a British thing. There's a soap opera in Mexico that has done more to cut pregnancy rates via a storyline this year than the government has done in the past 25 years."

While Corrine Purton, the director of channel integration management at COI, is quick to highlight how effective government-funded programming is. "Television programmes are much more engaging than ads," she says.

"Take the Beat: Life on the Street show, for example. The targeted Police Community Support Officer's recruitment rate was delivered, so you can't get any more conclusive evidence than that to show that it really works."

But for most people, it's not the effectiveness of the programmes that's in question. It's the way they're being produced. The controversy raised this week shows that a number of politicians, broadcasters and media freedom campaigners remain unconvinced.

Nick Jones, the former BBC political correspondent and now a council member at the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom, says: "When it comes to sponsorship, you have an obligation to be up front with people, and I think we may have crossed the line. We need a code of conduct for the Government.

"While I can't see a moral objection, things must be produced in a completely transparent way, and at the moment I don't think these programmes are."

Mark Eaves, the managing director at PHD Drum, agrees that it's all about the programmes' execution. "Brands can make huge contributions to programmes, it's just making sure the relationship between the two is made clear. And Rupert Howell, the managing director of ITV Brand and Commercial, points out that broadcasters will always ensure that programming is of the highest standard.

Ofcom will ultimately decide whether parties have complied with its existing code, but it seems that, as long as the Government complies, funded programmes can be an effective and cost-efficient form of advertising.

- Got a view? E-mail us at campaign@haymarket.com

CONTENT HEAD - MARK BOYD, head of content, Bartle Bogle Hegarty

"When we were working on projects of this nature, we wanted to be very transparent. We knew the sponsorship needed to be flagged up at both ends of the programme and, if this is done, then I don't see a problem.

"What's been said in the past few days is just the result of a media-hyped storm in a teacup. Just as brands need to think through how they use advertising, the Government needs to as well, and this is a cost-effective way of doing it."

COI - CORRINE PURTON, director of channel integration management, COI

"The advertisers who are funding the programme are usually allowed to check for factual accuracy. However, other than that, we have absolutely no influence on what is shown. It would be impossible. Broadcasters know they have to comply with the code, so aren't going to take the risk of a big fine.

"Of course we know that there may be some public and political cynicism when it comes to Government-funded programming, but if it's of sufficient quality and it's fully compliant with Ofcom's code, then why should people be cynical?"

BROADCASTER - RUPERT HOWELL, managing director, ITV Brand and Commercial, ITV

"Properly managed, advertiser-funded programming offers a valuable source of funding for increased British programme production, without compromising editorial independence or integrity. There are strict and sensible rules in place on AFP, and ITV would never cede editorial control of its output.

"Any AFP programme has to be justified editorially, stand on its own two feet and hold its own in the schedule. Clearly it is not in our interest to commission programmes that are not going to work or attract viewers."

MEDIA PLANNER - WILL SAUNDERS, partner, Edwards Groom Saunders

"The responsibility lies with the broadcasters, they are the guardians of their programming schedules. They will not risk losing viewers by having sponsored programmes.

"That's the careful line that people working on AFPs need to identify and understand. If shows are being too pushy, then the brand should just do it with an ad; if not, then an AFP can be a very effective piece of programming. It has to be a relevant programme, as consumers will vote with their remote if they don't see the show as applicable to them."

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