BBC breached code over flashing images warning failure


The broadcasting watchdog has upheld a complaint against the BBC for introducing a news report without warning that it contained flashing images that posed a risk to some people with epilepsy.

The news item on the BBC News at Ten on 23 November 2010 reported the announcement that Prince William and Kate Middleton had decided to marry at Westminster Abbey.

But the report included footage from the announcement of their engagement, which contained repeated flash photography.

OFCOM received a complaint from a viewer with photosensitive epilepsy, who was concerned at the amount of flashing images and the failure to include a warning.

The BBC said the report was preceded by a warning for its six o’clock bulletin, but the reporter on location for the News at Ten was not told to include a warning when she introduced the images.

The BBC apologised and said that “since this incident, news teams have been reminded of the importance of making sure that sufficient warnings are given in every case”.

The OFCOM ruling acknowledged that the failure was “a result of human error” but was “a matter of concern to OFCOM, and we do not expect a recurrence”.

The charity Epilepsy Action welcomed the ruling and said it was “vital” that warnings were transmitted.

But it also raised concerns about a new music video from American rapper Kanye West, All of the Lights, which features extensive flashing images that it believes have triggered seizures.

After it expressed concerns, the video was removed from YouTube – where it had already had several million hits.

Epilepsy Action said it was receiving calls from people who had had seizures after watching the video.

An Epilepsy Action spokeswoman said: “We are very pleased that someone has taken the decision to have it removed. We’re not quite sure yet whether it is YouTube or Kanye West’s representatives who have made this decision, or if it is a permanent move.”

Although OFCOM regulations apply to videos with flashing images that are shown on UK television, there are no such regulations online.

The charity has written to culture secretary Jeremy Hunt to ask for the regulations that apply to broadcasters such as the BBC to be extended to their websites.

A Department for Culture Media and Sport spokeswoman said: “We understand that Epilepsy Action have called for regulation relating to UK broadcasters hosting videos online, which would have a warning if shown on television.

“We are not aware of this being a problem, but if there was evidence of significant problems, we would expect broadcasters to respond without the need for heavy-handed regulation.”

24 February 2011