Home Office-funded series broke Ofcom sponsorship rules

LONDON - Broadcasters may need to be more careful with references to sponsors in advertiser-funded programming after Ofcom decided a Home Office-funded ITV series following police community support officers broke two rules.

'Beat: Life on the Street', which was fully funded by the government, was found to have broken the rule on the transparency of the sponsor-programme relationship.

The Home Office logo was only displayed for around three seconds at the end of the sponsor credits and according to Ofcom was "inconspicuous". The makers of the programme focused the credits instead on the COI Crimestoppers 'Let's Keep Crime Down' campaign.

The series also broke a rule that prohibits promotional references to sponsors within programming.

Ofcom said it considered that the overriding tone of the programmes was supportive of the PCSO service and likely to leave viewers with a favourable impression of it.

It dismissed the argument by Channel TV, the team who handled the programme's compliance on behalf of ITV, which claimed the series was "in no way inherently promotional for either PCSOs or the police force in general".

The regulator also had a problem with the closeness of the focus on the PCSO service. It said that even if the programme's references to the sponsor had not been promotional, it still would not have complied with the code's requirement for references to be editorially justified and incidental.

As the subject and focus of the series was the role and work of PCSOs, the references could not count as incidental.

Ofcom did clear the programme from the point of view of sponsor influence, saying that the programme makers had been careful to retain editorial control.

'Beat: Life on the Street's two series received £800,000 in funding from the Home Office after the programme was conceived by its media agency Manning Gottlieb OMD.

It was one of a number of government-funded programmes that hit the headlines last year for a perceived lack of transparency over their sponsorship.

The fuss led Sky to hand back a £400,000 payment for documentary series 'UK Border Force' from the Home Office because it wanted viewers to be confident the programme was "wholly independent".