Memorandum by the Independent Television
Commission (RTS 05)
ROAD TRAFFIC SPEED INQUIRY
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
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 proscriptionsbecause 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 networksITV, Channel 4 and
Channel 5which 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
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.
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,
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