Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by the Independent Television Commission (RTS 05)


  1.  The ITC welcomes the Committee's interest in this important matter, and specifically whether "TV programmes and advertisers have shown an appropriate attitude to speed". What follows sets out the ITC's policies and experience in relation to this matter. We shall of course await the Committee's findings with interest.


  2.  I attach a copy of our Programme Code. It applies to both terrestrial and cable and satellite channels licensed in the UK. Two sections are relevant: 1.7(c), which states that "portrayals of dangerous behaviour, capable of easy imitation, must always be justified by the dramatic and editorial requirements of the programme". Section 5.1 requires that "any programme item which on any reasonable judgement would be said to encourage or incite crime . . . is unacceptable". ITC codes must abide by the principles of the Human Rights Act, and Article 10 of the Convention, which provides for the rights of broadcasters (and others) to freedom of expression. However, freedom of expression may be limited, under Article 10, in the interests of public safety.

  3.  The Programme Code section on imitable behaviour does not refer specifically to high speed driving, or indeed to any other specific activity. Our preference, throughout the Code, is to establish general principles, rather than to list particular proscriptions—because a list will never be complete, and may give the impression that things which are not listed are therefore acceptable. However, the Code as currently drafted gives the ITC the power to intervene, but post facto, with any commercial broadcaster, in the event of a problematic portrayal of high speed driving. Intervention for a breach of the Code has the effect that the offending sequence cannot be repeated (without incurring a more serious penalty, such as a fine), and its publication alerts other broadcasters to the importance of avoiding similar offences.

  4.  The ITC monitors cable and satellite channels on a regular basis, and conducts more extensive and detailed monitoring of the terrestrial networks—ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5—which still account for the greater part of commercial TV viewing. The monitoring embraces dramas of all kinds, in which high speed driving may from time to time be portrayed, and factual programmes, including the motoring series. There is currently one regular motoring series on terrestrial commercial TV networks: Driven, which is shown on Channel 4. There are also two or three regional ITV series, including Pulling Power, which is shown in several ITV regions.

  5.  The ITC also relies on complaints to help determine viewer reactions to programmes. While complaints about potentially dangerous portrayals of other kinds are regularly received, complaints in relation to high speed driving have been few. In the past two years, none has been received about any dramatic portrayal, and two in relation to motoring series. These were not upheld. The ITC has not registered any breach of the Code in relation to high speed driving in the last 10 years.

  6.  This is because our general assessment is that television portrayals of high speed driving are not of a kind likely to lead to emulation. Dramas may, for example, show high speed driving by the emergency services. But this is not necessarily untrue to life, and in no sense encourages the view that it is acceptable for private motorists. Others, such as criminals, may similarly be shown. But they do not in general get away with it: there is "resolution".

  7.  As to the motoring programmes, our experience is that they take some care not to encourage high speed driving on the roads. Sometimes, the limits of a car's road-holding, acceleration and braking may be tested. But this is almost invariably done on what is clearly shown to be an off-road circuit, and usually with additional safety equipment (full safety harness and helmet). Safety is also a recurring theme of, for example, Driven, which has broadcast many items educating viewers to drive within their capabilities and take account of prevailing road conditions.

  8.  Thus, neither our monitoring nor expressed concern from viewers have led us to intervene with broadcasters on this topic. We are, however, and will remain, very alert to the issue.


  9.  We fully support the agreed public policy that cars and other automotive products should not be promoted in advertising on the basis of speed or irresponsible driving. There is no doubt that driving standards, particularly amongst young men, are a serious problem for society, though it is one that emerges from a much wider car culture of which advertising is a part.

  10.  So that we do not unreasonably fetter free speech, therefore, we seek to act on the basis that regulatory policies and decisions in this area must be proportionate to the risk that advertising is likely, in itself, to be detrimental to driving standards.

  11.  Our policies in this area distinguish between different categories of advertising.

Car advertising

  12.  We have particularly comprehensive rules and guidance covering advertising for cars an other automotive products (referred to henceforth simply as "car advertising": we expect the same standards of advertising for other vehicles and for components and services. There is almost no advertising for motorbikes on TV). Our current guidelines are enclosed, and expand on the Code rule which lays out the basic principle. These guidelines were produced in 1993 after a review of the car advertising which had appeared under the previous, much less comprehensive, guidance.

  13.  We expect the TV companies to comply fully with the rules and guidance and have acted against a number of commercials over the last few years where we considered the rules to have been breached. Our Advertising Complaints Report for June 1997 contains an "editorial" and summaries of three cases which had all cropped up at the same time. Since then, there have been few problems with car advertising.

The portrayal of driving in other advertising

  14.  Some other kinds of advertising feature driving which, if copied on the roads, would be potentially lethal. Examples are trailers for action films in which cars drive down pavements and through shops. We think scenes like these are generally taken as simply fantasy and are unlikely to influence driving in the real world. We think it would be unreasonable to ban them. On the other hand, we do act where we judge that an example of driving might indeed have a bad influence, perhaps because the driving did seem to relate to real life and to suggest some dangerous behaviour is "cool".

  15.  We are in the process of reviewing our whole advertising code and will be consulting on a revised draft early in the new year. The regime we will be proposing will be much the same as currently.

20 December 2001

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