Keith Lemon has been cleared by broadcasting watchdogs after giving away a pet puppy as a prize on his ITV1 show.
A total of 237 viewers complained to Ofcom that the stunt on prime-time Saturday night TV promoted an irresponsible attitude to animal welfare and pet ownership.
The controversial episode of Keith Lemon’s LemonAid aired in April when three families took part in a competition, A Right Dog's Dinner.
It prompted an immediate storm of protest that live animals should not be treated like prizes – and concerns that a dog was a commitment that should not be treated lightly
Lemon’s creator Leigh Francis defended the move on Twitter after the show aired – and when one viewer complained his stunt had ‘opened a can of worms’ replied flippantly: 'Good, I love worms.'
However, what viewers did not know was that all the contestants had been carefully vetted by producers, and interviewed by the Kennel Club-registered breeders who supplied the puppy.
ITV told investigators at Ofcom that the families that took part in the competition were all considering buying a puppy prior to appearing on the programme. And they said that appropriate checks were carried out before the families came to the studio, and again before the puppy shown in the programme was finally given into the care of its new owners.
Although only one puppy – a pug – was shown in the programme, there were in fact other puppies at the studios, appropriate to the preferences of the three families.
In its ruling, published today, the regulator said: ‘Ofcom accepts that this material may have caused offence to some viewers who object in principle to a puppy being given away as a prize in an entertainment programme.
‘However, Ofcom noted that at no time was the puppy shown during the broadcast to be in discomfort or distress. Further, and importantly, the broadcaster demonstrated that it took a number of very extensive measures to ensure the welfare of the puppy shown on screen and given as a prize, and of other puppies in the studios.’
But in its ruling the watchdogs suggested broadcasters take steps to ‘protect viewers from offence’ – even if they did nothing wrong.
In its ruling, Ofcom said: ‘Ofcom notes that ITV took the editorial decision not to inform viewers of the measures it took to ensure the welfare of the puppies. This may have contributed to the concerns of some viewers... Ofcom therefore advises broadcasters, where the welfare of animals featured in a programme may cause concern, to consider broadcasting appropriate information to help protect viewers from offence that may result from withholding that information.’