October 22nd 2005

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Articles from this issue:

EDITORIAL: JI's blood-stained prints on the Bali bombings

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Howard's biggest gamble since the GST

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Public outcry against human cloning

NEW ZEALAND ELECTION: How Helen Clark snatched victory

CLIMATE: Don't get steamed up over Arctic melting

ISLAM: Why Indian Muslims reject extremism

SCIENCE AND RELIGION: The rise and rise of Intelligent Design

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Too many crooks spoil the broth / Turkey's EU membership and some masterful wedge politics by Austria / Cultural revolution / Look back in anger / Marriage of science with home economics / The decoy ducks

SCHOOL FUNDING: Giving parents greater choice

DRUGS: New cannabis strategy urgently needed

MEDIA: Media authority blasts Ten's 'Big Brother Uncut'

OVERSEAS TRADE: Australia trading at a loss - myth and reality

ENERGY: US Pushes for energy self-reliance

Media cover-up of Saddam's WMDs (letter)

Rural Australians betrayed (letter)

Embryo vs. adult stem-cell research (letter)


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Media authority blasts Ten's 'Big Brother Uncut'

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, October 22, 2005
The ACMA, responding to view complaints about Big Brother Uncut, has found that the Ten Network had breached industry standards, reports Peter Westmore.

The Ten Network has been forced to cover up Big Brother Uncut, following viewer complaints about sexual antics, nudity and foul language.

The Australian Media and Telecommunications Authority (ACMA), responding to viewer complaints, found that the Ten Network had breached industry code of practice.

The ruling sets a firm standard against which all other television programs will be judged.

It was welcomed by the Australian Family Association (AFA), which condemned the program last June and called for the Ten Network to take it off air.

Degrading sexual behaviour

In one particular program, a participant's sexual organs were exposed; and in another, a group of male contestants composed a song which the ACMA said contained "references to fetishistic and degrading sexual behaviour".

The decision is the first test of the Australian Communications and Media Authority, which was established on July 1, 2005, by the merger of the Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA) and the Australian Communications Authority (ACA) to establish a new media and communications regulator.

The ACMA is responsible for regulating telecommunications, broadcasting, radio communications and online content.

In a ruling released last month, the ACMA said that Network Ten licensees in Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne Perth and Sydney had breached the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice in the Big Brother Uncut broadcast.

The ACMA's acting chair, Lyn Maddock, said: "MA classified material is the strongest permitted on free-to-air television. Because of this, broadcasters are obliged to exercise particular care in selecting material for this category."

Following the ruling, Channel Ten agreed to make major changes to Big Brother Uncut, to bring it into line with the classification guidelines.

It agreed to review the Big Brother production processes to prevent sexually demeaning behaviour occurring. To ensure that the program can be properly edited before being telecast, Channel Ten will no longer broadcast it live.

It pledged that "two classifiers, including Ten's senior classifier, will separately assess each program prior to broadcast. Ten will also provide weekly reports to the ACMA about viewer complaints that Big Brother Uncut breached the code".

Network Ten also agreed to conduct an extensive two-day education program for the production crew before the next season of Big Brother to outline the requirements of the MA15+ classification, with a focus on the ACMA's adverse findings against them.

The ACMA said, "We will reinforce the training with follow-up visits to the production studios once the show has commenced."

The Ten Network will also develop internal classification guidelines for the Big Brother production crew, based on the ACMA's findings.

Ten will give a copy of the ACMA's final investigation report, together with an explanation of the decision, to relevant production staff and management at Ten and Endemol Southern Star, which produce the series.

The network will also report to the ACMA on the network's compliance with the training and information program before the commencement of the next season of Big Brother.

Additionally, the ACMA has initiated an independent review of the Big Brother production process by Associate Professor Catherine Lumby and Ms Karen Wills, director of the NSW Rape Crisis Centre.

The review has looked at whether the necessary precautions are taken to prevent sexually demeaning behaviour in the house.

Network Ten said: "In July 2005, Associate Professor Lumby conducted a half-day workshop with Big Brother production staff. All senior production staff attended.

"During the workshop, Assoc. Professor Lumby discussed existing procedures, rules, guidelines, codes and operational practices used in producing Big Brother programs.

"Ways of improving those protocols were also discussed in the context of events that could and have occurred on the show."

Monitoring behavioiur

The Ten Network also undertook to provide a copy of the report to the ACMA, and to implement the recommendations of the review, including:

  • Improving codes of conduct and house-mate training to increase awareness of sexual harassment, assault and bullying.

  • Formalising the system of monitoring house-mate behaviour from the control room by drawing up guidelines for appropriate behaviour. The control room will use the guidelines to identify risky situations and immediately refer them to production executives for advice.

  • Identifying problematic behaviour at an early stage, and intervening if necessary, will have a positive impact on the nature and context of material that is available for broadcast.

The ACMA concluded: "The measures to be implemented by Ten will provide safeguards against the broadcast of inappropriately classified material. The ACMA will monitor the effectiveness of Ten's undertakings and may decide to impose additional conditions on Ten's broadcasting licences if concerns about compliance with the code arise again."

The ACMA said a breach of such a licence condition could attract serious punitive sanctions.

  • Peter Westmore

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