Ofcom has pronounced on an “undue prominence” complaint after prominent use of his own product in Channel 4 show “Jamie at home.” Was this editorially justified or a blatant plug? Did the wide press coverage for the Ofcom case sell even more product? Something Phil Lee prepared earlier.
Topic: Branded content
Who: Jamie Oliver, Channel 4 and Ofcom
When: February 2008
Law stated as at: 11 February 2008
Jamie Oliver and Channel 4 found themselves subjected to unwanted attention from Ofcom this month, after viewers complained that Jamie Oliver gave undue prominence to one of his kitchen range products on the twelve-part cookery series "Jamie at Home".
The complaints centred around two episodes which saw Jamie Oliver demonstrating his "Jamie Oliver Flavour Shaker" kitchen product. There were several close ups of the "Flavour Shaker", including close ups of ingredients being inserted, Jamie shaking it and the "Flavour Shaker" being emptied onto a chopping board.
Channel 4 did not actually produce the "Jamie at Home" series itself, but instead bought it as an acquired programme from independent production company, Fresh One Productions (a joint venture between Jamie Oliver and Fremantle Media). Once concerns about the undue verbal prominence given to the "Flavour Shaker" were raised, Channel 4 contacted Fresh One Productions and instructed it to remove all references to the product for repeat broadcasts.
In considering the complaints, Ofcom investigated whether Channel 4 was in breach of Ofcom's broadcast code (the "Code"). Specifically, Ofcom looked into whether Channel 4 had breached rule 10.1 (which requires broadcasters to maintain independence of editorial control over programme content) and rule 10.4 (which specifies that no "undue prominence" may be given to any product or service). In deciding whether "undue prominence" had been given to the "Flavour Shaker", Ofcom considered:
- whether there was editorial justification for the presence of, or reference to, the product in the programme; and
- the manner in which the product appeared or was referred to in the programme.
In responding to claims that it had breached the Code, Channel 4 argued that use of the "Flavour Shaker" was editorially justified and that it would be unrealistic to expect new kitchen products not to be used. Channel 4 was also keen to point out that the show made references to other kitchen products, such as a pestle and mortar and food processor, that could be used to achieve similar results (Jamie Oliver was quoted in the 18 September episode as saying: "I'm going to get my Flavour Shaker – you could use a food processor or you could use a pestle and mortar – get oregano – nice little handful into the Flavour Shaker…"). A further argument made by Channel 4 was that the programme did not make any direct claims that the "Flavour Shaker" was better than any other kitchen utensil, and viewers were not encouraged to go out and buy the product. However, despite noting these arguments, Ofcom ruled that Channel 4 had breached both rule 10.1 and 10.4.
In relation to rule 10.1, Ofcom pointed out that Channel 4 had the responsibility to ensure that the series complied with the Code, regardless of whether the programme was acquired or commissioned. Because it had failed to do this – and because Channel 4 only became aware of the unduly prominent references after the relevant episodes were broadcast – it followed that Channel 4 had necessarily failed to retain editorial control of the series and that viewers may reasonably have considered Channel 4's editorial integrity to have been compromised.
In relation to rule 10.4, Ofcom ruled that the references to the "Flavour Shaker" were unduly prominent, and that there was "insufficient editorial justification" for the combined visual and verbal references to the product. Ofcom further noted that: "Overall the focus on the product went beyond the level of prominence usually given to a basic kitchen utensil".
Channel 4 has indicated that it will pay greater attention to acquired programming in future. In particular, Channel 4 has confirmed going forward that all episodes will be viewed by a member of the commissioning team responsible for the programme's acquisition and that Channel 4 will edit the programme, if necessary, prior to broadcast.
Details of Ofcom's ruling can be found in Ofcom's Broadcast Bulletin published on 11 February (available here).
Why this matters:
With the growing trend for celebrities to launch their own product ranges, there is an inevitable tendency for stars to want to use their products in the TV shows and films in which they appear. Ofcom's ruling serves as a reminder that, whilst this is not necessary prohibited per se, care must be taken to ensure that product use does not become undue product prominence.
But there is also another important lesson to be learnt, namely that broadcasters cannot seek to "outsource" their responsibility for ensuring compliance with the Code to independent producers. Under the Code, broadcasters have responsibility for ensuring independent editorial control – regardless of whether a programme is acquired or commissioned – and this responsibility cannot be simply be delegated to independent production companies.