Ofcom recently investigated 57 programmes broadcast on STV in 2008 and 2009, all of which were sponsored either by the Scottish Government or its agencies. This followed allegations in the press that the Scottish Government had influenced the content of STV’s programming.

39 of the programmes in question (including the 12 Homecoming programmes, about which the press had originally complained) were found not to be in breach of sponsorship rules in the Broadcasting Code. However, 18 other programmes, most of them short, one-minute productions on public information subjects, were deemed to be in breach.

Ofcom reiterated in the adjudication that a sponsor is only allowed to gain promotional benefit from funding through being associated with the programme, not by being referred to during it. There must be no promotional reference to the sponsor in the programme and the relationship between the sponsor and the sponsored programme must be transparent.

Ofcom felt that in this case STV had sought programme funding to create programmes which were effectively vehicles for the promotion of their interests. Although the majority of the series found to be in breach of the Code covered “social action subjects”, such as education, health and well being, which are intrinsically unownable, non-proprietorial matters, Ofcom nevertheless felt that the series in fact promoted the service or product provided by the sponsors. For example, the programme, Time for Change, sponsored by Learning Direct Scotland, focused purely on the benefits of attending courses and the funding that was available. Ofcom inevitably surmised that this series served almost solely as a vehicle to encourage viewers to use the service of Learn Direct Scotland, a body which (surprise, surprise) advises consumers on suitable courses and available funding!

Ofcom felt that in these 18 culpable cases, the programmes were in effect advertisements for the sponsor or its activities. STV’s sponsors were not simply associated with their respective programmes; they were promoted by them. This time the Scots certainly did not get off scot-free…

Written by Helena Heaton, summer vacation student.