Ofcom launches investigation following violent Hollyoaks scene

Hollyoaks: was censured for this violent fight scene
Hollyoaks: was censured for this violent fight scene

Ofcom, the broadcasting regulator, has launched an investigation into violence in pre-watershed programs after censuring Hollyoaks for showing a character being "violently" killed by a speeding train.

The regulator has commissioned independent research to find out whether people are concerned about the level of violence in programmes before and immediately after the watershed. Ofcom aims to publish the findings as soon as possible in 2014.

The investigation came as Ofcom censured Channel 4 for an episode of Hollyoaks in March that ended with a fight between two of the show's main characters, Walker and Brendan, on a railway line.

The fight culminated in Walker being pushed into the path of an oncoming train.

The scene received one complaint, prompting an investigation. In its ruling on the matter today Ofcom found the scene showed too much violence before watershed and was unsuitable for children to watch.

In its defence against the complaint, Channel 4 said the episode and the nature of the characters relationship signposted the upcoming violence.

Channel 4 added that the scene was edited in consultation with the legal and compliance teams and the fight only lasted 90 seconds.

In its response, Channel 4 also said the fact that only one person out of the 1.2 million viewers complained meant finding the scene in breach would be an "unreasonable and disproportionate" restriction on its right to freedom of expression.

However, Ofcom said despite the scene being edited and being short, it was "intense" and the ending showed an "obvious intention to shock the audience".

Channel 4 claimed pre-show announcements "notified" viewers about the dramatic nature of the episode. However, Ofcom felt this was not enough to indicate how shocking and violent the episode's ending would be.

Ofcom also noted the show attracted a considerable child audience, despite being aimed at teenagers, with 10 per cent of the audience aged four to nine. Ofcom found the scene had "potential to distress younger viewers" as well as to "raise concerns" among parents.

The regulator added that the number of complaints was not the only thing regulator took account of and therefore found the episode in breach of rule 1.11, for the level of violence before watershed, and 1.3 for being unsuitable for children.

Ofcom warned broadcasters to ensure violence in pre-watershed scenes was "appropriately limited" and said when assessing programs it will take into consideration whether the tone is malevolent, menacing and threatening.

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