UK Regulator Slaps ITV's Wrist for Covert Government Sponsorship

28 January 2009

LONDON: Communications regulator Ofcom has administered  a draconian "tut-tut" to the nation's largest commercial broadcaster ITV for its "lack of transparency" in accepting funding from a government department, the Home Office.

The taxpayers' cash went to ITV's purported 'reality' cop series Beat: Life on the Street, which dealt with the work of the much-criticized Police Community Support Officers scheme.

Responsible for a wide portfolio (immigration and passports, drugs policy, counter-terrorism, police, and science and research), the Home Office greased the palms of ITV with circa £400,000 ($553.1k; €425.8k), sufficient to cover the entire costs of the series – according to the Daily Telegraph.

The same unabashed government propaganda was also broadcast by News Corporation's UK satellite monopoly BSkyB, which, to its credit, refunded the cash on the grounds that it wanted viewers to be confident that the programme was "wholly independent".

Cash-strapped ITV, however, was only too happy to pocket the moolah – for which it has now received a brisk 'tssssk' from the watchdog. It was not, however, invited to refund the taxpayers' money. 

The programme-maker, ITV unit Channel TV, claims that the series featured sponsor credits both at the beginning and end of each episode; also that the credits were derived from the Home Office's Crimestoppers: Let's Keep Crime Down campaign. A Home Office logo was displayed on-screen for all of three seconds.

Despite the programme-maker's protestations, Ofcom ruled that the programme's references to Community Support Officers cast them in a "positive light" [unlike the rest of the UK media] and was likely to leave viewers with a "favourable impression" of the much-derided service.

Ofcom also ruled that the references in the programme credits failed to tell viewers who the sponsor was and that the Home Office's role was not made "sufficiently clear".

Data sourced from; additional content by WARC staff