Monday, November 27, 2006

You've gotta pick a subject or two

In light of the Christian Union discussions around the Equal Oppertunities Statement at SUs and how they "automaticaly" discriminate against religious discussions on issues of gender, race, sexuality etc I would like to reprint this ruling from the Broadcasting Obudsman OFCOM which gets to the nub of how rules and regulations definining if something is offensive etc can be truly implemented. Take care Y'all John
Not in Breach Bremner, Bird & Fortune Channel 4, 25 March 2006, 20:10 Introduction The final sketch in this edition of the satirical comedy series explored the allegations relating to the ‘loans for peerages’ row. The sketch featured one of the central characters in the controversy, the Labour Party’s chief fundraiser Lord Levy. He was portrayed by Rory Bremner, as Charles Dicken’s Fagin. In a grey suit, wearing a prosthetic hook nose, Lord Levy, as Fagin, sang You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two..’. from the musical ‘Oliver!’, changing some of the lyrics from the verse and chorus. In summary, eleven viewers complained that connecting the character of Fagin with Lord Levy (a prominent member of the Jewish community) was an incitement to racial hatred; a stereotypical portrayal that was offensive, anti-semitic and/or racist; and was not relevant to the story. Response In Channel 4’s statement, it said that the character, Fagin, was an easily identifiable caricature of a cunning ringleader of an enterprise which had the sole aim of getting money out of people. The broadcaster said that the allegations of secretive and questionable financial dealings were at the heart of the claims made in loans-for-peerages controversy. Although it would have been absurd to claim that Lord Levy was literally involved in leading a child pickpocketing gang (and indeed the revised lyrics made clear that he had done nothing criminal) the satirical comparison was, in the Ch ann el’s opinion, perfectly proper in the context of the week’s news. In Channel 4’s view, some of the lyrics from the song used from the musical, Oliver!, particularly lent themselves to the loans-for-peerages story, not least the opening lines: “In this life, one thing counts, in the bank large amounts, I’m afraid these don’t grow on trees, You’ve got to pick a pocket or two”. However, “In campaigns” replaced “In this life” thereby making it clear that this was a reference to Lord Levy’s role as a party campaign fundraiser and not to him personally. Further, after the first verse and until the end of the song, Lord Levy did not sing “you’ve got to pick a pocket or two” but “You’ve got to give a peerage or two”. Later references in the song were not to Lord Levy at all but to Tony Blair; “When he sees, Someone rich, Tony’s thumbs, Start to Itch … They’ve got to pay a mortgage or two, So, You better give a peerage or two …”. Having drawn the comedic parallel between the Fagin character and Lord Levy, Ch ann el 4 said that it was legitimate to draw on identifiable characteristics of the fictional character. Fagin, it said, was an established part of Britain ’s cultural heritage. The characterisation with which the public were most likely to be familiar was that made famous by Ron Moody in the musical, released as a film in 1968. This characterisation of Fagin, included, famously, a prosthetic hooked nose, which had become a defining part of the character’s identity. It was not the general style of Bremner, Bird & Fortune to dress its subjects in anything other than what they might be expected to wear normally, according to Channel 4. The use of the hooked nose along with the “Fagin-esque” manner of Lord Levy’s dancing, the presence of the two street urchins and the theatrical setting were considered sufficient to make the satirical connection between the fictional character and Lord Levy. The use of a suit instead of rags further represented and reinforced the fact that this was not some nineteenth century fictional character but a modern-day member of the House of Lords. It was entirely irrelevant to the programme-makers that Lord Levy was Jewish. Had the person at the centre of the controversy been some other senior Labour party figure, he too would have been portrayed as the Fagin character. Rory Bremner has often performed for Jewish charities, including Jewish Care, one of the UK ’s biggest charities and of which Lord Levy was Chairman. Channel 4 believed that there was nothing either in the characterisation or the lyrics which could be construed as anti-semitic and/or racist. In its view, this was quite clearly a sketch about Lord Levy, Tony Blair and Labour’s fundraising. The lines were very specific and reflected the news that week. Fagin was an indelible part of British culture and familiar enough not to provoke anti-semitism, certainly among a Bremner, Bird & Fortune audience. His metaphorical depiction, in a clearly satirical context, was entirely legitimate. Decision Comedy, and political satire in particular, has a strong tradition of challenging the viewer’s concept of generally accepted standards. Broadcasters have the right to explore ideas and the viewer has the right to receive them as long as broadcasters comply with the law and Ofcom’s Broadcasting Code. The legislation requires Ofcom to balance the necessary protection of members of the public from offensive and harmful material with an appropriate level of freedom of expression The complaints from viewers focussed on two Sections of the Code: Section Two concerning generally accepted standards and matters related to potentially harmful and offensive material, and Section Three concerning material likely to encourage or incite the commission of crime or to lead to disorder. In relation to offence we considered rule 2.3: 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… discriminatory treatment… on the grounds of race [and/or] religion … Guidance to the Broadcasting Code notes that: “ Broadcasters should take particular care in their portrayal of culturally diverse matters and should avoid stereotyping unless editorially justified. When considering such matters, broadcasters should take into account the possible effects programmes may have on particular sections of the community. ”. We note that Channel 4 had no intention to cause offence or focus the sketch on Lord Levy’s Jewish background. We also acknowledge that, for some, the connection made by the programme between Lord Levy and Fagin, for whatever reason, was offensive. However, overall, Ofcom must judge whether, taking into account freedom of expression and the context (such as the programme’s editorial content, the service it was broadcast on and the likely expectation of the audience), whether any offence that was caused breached the Broadcasting Code. Specifically, we considered therefore whether the sensitivity caused by the apparent linking of Lord Levy’s Jewish background, with aspects of the character of a fictional criminal of Jewish descent, had led to a breach of Rule 2.3. We noted that the decision to allude to the character of Fagin by using a prosthetic nose summoned up the well known Fagin character, but could also be seen to relate to the historical stereotypes of Jewish people. We considered that Bremner, Bird and Fortune is a well-established satirical show with a reputation for being inclusive and supportive of individuals who may belong to a minority ethnic or religious community. It is broadcast at a time and on a channel that is unlikely to attract people who might take its characterisations literally, or fail to understand its satirical point. It is consistent in targeting those in positions of trust and/or power and seeking to ridicule their shortcomings. It often juxtaposes two concepts such as a well-known song and an exaggerated caricature of a political figure. Bearing this context in mind, we considered that the thrust of this sketch was to satirise the controversy over the allegations of Labour’s method of fundraising and not to satirise the cultural antecedents of Lord Levy. The use of Fagin dwelt on a perception of him as a figure obsessed by gaining money by whatever means and did not refer to his faith. We therefore concluded that the programme did not breach generally accepted standards. Rule 3.1Material likely to encourage or incite the commission of crime or to lead to disorder must not be included in television or radio services. In our view, this was not an attack on a minority ethnic community. The depiction of Lord Levy as Fagin was clearly a satirical device used in order to highlight what had been alleged to be anomalies in political behaviour. One of satire’s principal purposes, in a democracy, is to ridicule those in positions of trust or power. While it may have the effect of bringing a viewer or listener to change their mind about any given situation, it was not in this case seeking to elicit a radical response from the audience - resulting in criminal or violent acts against the subjects they scrutinise. The programme did not encourage or incite the commission of crime or lead to disorder. Not in breach

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