Dr. Ofcom (Or How We Learned To Stop Worrying and Love Complaining)


Conor McIntyre’s Four-Step Guide to Charming a Lady

• Step 1: If one ever finds oneself in a situation in which a male acquaintance verbally abuses a woman for failing to eat a cake made of tinned ham covered in hot sauce, stand back and don’t intervene.

• Step 2: Once her self-esteem has been sufficiently shouted out of her, find a piece of feminine hygiene ‘equipment’ and suggest that she insert it into an orifice (the use of the word ‘minge’ is optional but advised). Not only will she be impressed by your knowledge of the female anatomy but by this point her self-esteem should have bottomed out.

• Step 3: Now she’ll be putty in your hands (if not the poor cow is probably confused – give her a hug or threaten to punch her or something).

• Step 4: Rest assured that if you don’t successfully charm her then at least your bullying will make great TV.

“Where does Big Brother find these people?â€? It’s a perennial question of the 21st century I’m sure you’ll agree, yet it’s one that I’ve never understood. Just visit any city centre at 3am on a Friday and I’m sure you’d be treated to some less than progressive opinions, colourful language and if you’re lucky a punch in the kidneys. Yes, modern Britain does have its fair share of morons. One of these particular morons is Big Brother 2012’s Conor McIntyre, a man that makes Richard Keys and Andy Gray look like a pair of silver tongued feminists.

In fact, his actions on Monday night have elicited around 1,000 complaints from angry viewers who took against his Malcolm Tucker style approach to people politics. But what exactly were these people complaining about? Why were they complaining about it? And who are they and where do they buy their anoraks?

If I were a writer for the The Sun I’d just chastise everyone involved on all sides and be done with it (including making an anorak joke which unfortunately I’m not above). I’d label Conor McIntyre “a foul-mouthed lager lout and suspected immigrantâ€? and all of the viewers who complained “scurrilous, possibly Polish, mouth-breathing, liberalist sympathisers.â€? I’m not going to write that here (because I am not xenophobic, a right-wing nutcase or obnoxious – well, maybe a bit obnoxious but two out of three isn’t bad). What I will write however is that Conor McIntyre is indeed an arse and that pretty much everyone who complained needs to consider what it is that Ofcom is really there for.

Yes that’s right, I’m a bit of a cultural libertarian. Feel free to complain about what I say but don’t you dare complain about my right to say it blah blah blah, one of those types – ish (I’m not going to be supporting the BNP’s right to wage a hate campaign against Britain’s ethnic minorities anytime soon in the name of free speech if that’s what you’re thinking).

Louche Disposition

There are many however who don’t share my somewhat louche disposition. Turns out there are plenty of people out there of a Mary Whitehouse persuasion who’s sensibilities are somewhat sensitive. So much so that a somewhat insignificant event simply by being televised can lead to them hitting the phones faster than you can say “stop and think about whether or not you are directing your grievances at the relevant authoritiesâ€? – or something to that effect.

Such a culture amongst certain people is ably illustrated by the media shit-storm in a teacup that followed Jade Goody’s mockery of Shilpa Shetty way back in 2007. Never ones to miss an opportunity to build a big cash mountain out of a meaningless molehill the newspapers as well as the professional Ofcom complainers had a field day. Pretty much everyone turned on Jade Goody and things got awfully unpleasant. It all went to show that if you sling shit at someone in front of a camera then people, and then the media, will sling shit back at you. Before you know it everyone ends up covered in shit and everyone is too disgusted with everyone else to do anything constructive about the situation. In the aftermath we get to see footage of morons in India (yes they have them in other countries too) burning pneumatic effigies of Goody and hailing her the devil. After that we get to see Goody’s grovelling apology for her actions and most grotesquely of all we get to see Channel 4 executives rolling around in a pile of shit covered money and coming out the other side smelling of roses.

Yes, Channel 4 was placed under certain sanctions by Ofcom as a result but the misconduct of the network was buried by the media under the revelation that certain ignorant people are sometimes racist to other people. I heavily doubt that many of the calls Ofcom received where focused upon Channel 4’s editorial responsibilities and I think the same could probably be said of this week’s complaints. They may make a lot of noise but in reality make no real difference. Channel 4 would have been investigated without the complaints and all the incident served to do was make a victim of Shilpa Shetty and make Jade Goody some sort of EDL martyr.

You see Ofcom is there to regulate the broadcasters and their editorial judgement, not the Big Brother housemates. As a man of (admittedly self-diagnosed) sane mind and moral I do indeed object to any bullying that occurs in the house but that alone does not a valid complaint make.

Throughout the history of high profile Ofcom cases it becomes clear that many people complain when they are angered or annoyed by something, often something that is somewhat specific to them or a group they belong to. Ofcom may be tasked with “protecting the public from what might be considered harmful or offensive materialâ€? but it doesn’t count if you are offended because of your bigotry. Such people evidently see Ofcom as some sort of counselling service, a hotline where they can air out their grievances to a member of staff that is paid to listen. Topics people have felt motivated to call Ofcom about include..

• This Morning doing a report on gay wedding (117 complaints).
• The Bill featuring a gay kiss (170 complaints).
• Spitting image showing an image of God (341 complaints).
• Brass Eye satirising paedophilia (992 complaints).
• The mere idea that of film that shows Christ having sex being shown (The Last Temptation of Christ with 1554 complaints, many before broadcast).

Why stop there? Why not complain about anything that takes your fancy..

• Why not complain that you became distressed by England being knocked out of Euro 2012.
• That you didn’t like the bit in Total Recall where we find out that the mutant taxi driver has been secretly working for Cohagen all along.
• That Walter let a heroin addicted woman die of by choking on her own vomit in Breaking Bad.
• That Breaking Bad showed someone dying by choking on their own vomit after taking heroin.
• That you think vomit is a bit “ickyâ€?.
• That Channel 4 dare show the film Crash in which people find sexual pleasure in car crashes.
• That as a homophobe you didn’t like the bits in Queer as Folk where guys have sex with each other (that actually received 163 complaints)
• That you didn’t like Brokeback Mountain because now you can’t think about the previously “dreamyâ€? Jake Gyllenhaal without thinking of Heath Ledger having sex with him.
• That you thought the Shawshank Redemption should have ended with Red getting on the bus for God sake it was a film about hope and the bit on the beach at the end ruined that and that Andy was sanding down a boat was just too cliché and trite for words and that Frank Darabont should have stuck to his guns and not filmed the “audience pleasingâ€? addendum. Was it a dream sequence? Please tell me it was a dream sequence.

I disgress.

Doing a ‘Whitehouse’

Ofcom are charged with many things (some of which lie outside of the ‘censorship’ arena) but not only can they not fine individuals but the people that comprise the content they regulate are out of their jurisdiction altogether too. That a program or the people in it upset us is not the point. We may be upset by bullying in Waterloo Road and upset by bullying in the Big Brother house but it only violates Ofcom’s rules once it becomes editorially unjustifiable (i.e. exploitative to participants or harmful or offensive). Ofcom’s remit when it comes to editorial content is to regulate the broadcasters – Channel 4 and Channel 5 for Big Brother, the BBC when a middle aged man and less than middle aged man call an elderly man and talk about engaging in sexual intercourse with his less than middle aged daughter.

By all means complain about the editorial judgement of broadcasters, maybe even do a Whitehouse who, for all her sins, at least attempted to start a public discourse about censorship rather than just calling in and adding her heft to a somewhat meaningless statistic. If you don’t like bullying then well done, you are somewhat lovely, but don’t call Ofcom about it. On the other hand if you object to Channel 5 cultivating and broadcasting bullying and abuse in order to turn a profit then go crazy. Give Ofcom a call and express your distaste at Channel 5’s editorial decision-making. If the BBC starts a campaign supporting the Conservatives, if Newsnight airs a VT of Jeremy Paxman pulling down his trousers and decapitating a donkey, then by all means complain. In each case feel free to bemoan the BBC’s lack of political neutrality or the Newsnight producer’s questionable decision to show unjustifiable animal murder by a trouserless lunatic on prime-time TV. Just whatever you do don’t moan that ‘it made you upset’ and leave it at that. Ofcom isn’t there to police how content affects your personal sensibilities per se, it is there to uphold freedom of speech and to police the actions of broadcasters in relation to the public’s sensibilities as a whole.

When Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross phoned Andrew Sachs and it was broadcast after the fact the BBC received a fine of £150,000 and Brand and Ross were sacked. But of course they were sacked by the BBC, not Ofcom. Ofcom don’t have that power. So next time you see something on TV that you find offensive and instinctively start to reach for the phone, think about why you are doing it. Many who do complain may indeed do this and may in fact be complaining on the correct grounds. Even so this is an appeal that the rest should bear in mind that Ofcom is there for a certain reason and that reason only.

If Big Brother features an horrendous argument featuring one or two bewildered idiots then don’t phone up and complain that it’s not what you want to see, complain that Channel 5 are acting irresponsibly by accruing money through exploiting people and their distress. The same could possibly be said of talent shows like Britain’s Got Talent or The X Factor. Maybe then, by formalising the reasons for our distaste instead of making a lot of noise, we, and the regulatory bodies that govern our viewing experience, can actually start to truly instigate some change.

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