TV watchdogs clear Black Mirror

Charlie Brooker film did not invade privacy

Of all the things to cause potential offence in Charlie Brooker’s dark comic satire The National Anthem – in which the Prime Minister is forced to have sex with a pig in order to free a kidnapped princess – few might have predicted a four-second ‘vox pop’ clip would have attracted the interest of broadcast watchdogs.

But one member of public who was caught on camera complained to Ofcom that the scene invaded her privacy – prompting a full investigation.

However, in a 12-page ruling this morning, the regulator ruled that the woman, Frances Livingstone, was not portrayed unfairly, nor was her privacy breached.

She appeared briefly in the Channel 4 comedy-drama as part of a fictional news report about the ransom demand, in which she was seen saying: ‘I don’t think anyone should concede to any sort of humiliation under that kind of threat’

However she complained that she was unfairly treated as the broadcaster did not seek her permission to film or air the footage, which breached her privacy.

Livingstone said that she felt sickened every time an acquaintance told her they had seen her in the programme, which went out as part of Brooker’s Black Mirror season, and that her professional reputation as an artist and a member of the Linnean Society of London – which promotes the biological sciences –  had been compromised,

However Channel 4 said that Ms Livingstone voluntarily allowed herself to be filmed commenting on the scenario described to her, which implied consent, and that she was filmed in a public place, commenting on matters which were in no way private to her.

The director of the vox pop segment told Ofcom investiagtors: ‘I cannot remember in detail the conversation with Frances Livingstone and her companion. However, I remember it being reasonably good natured but that she was not particularly engaged in the subject.

‘After I explained what I was doing, she gave a brief reaction to the hypothetical situation and then in a friendly but firm way she told me she thought the idea or premise for the programme's idea was rubbish and asked me to clarify my role on the production... She then repeated that she didn't think the film's idea was a good one, apologised for not being more forthcoming and walked away”.

A transcript of the full exchange reveals she said, on camera, that she was not a royalist before adding: ‘I don’t think anyone should concede to any sort of humiliation under that kind of threat whether I don’t care if it’s the royal family or somebody who lives locally, makes no difference to me.

She later added: ‘I’m not sure what this sort of rubbish idea is about to be honest...It sounds so trashy to me in every way...It’s just the whole concept is kind of trashy whatever the point of it.’

In their findings the watchdog concluded: ‘Ofcom took the view that, although Livingstone was commenting on a controversial and distasteful, albeit fictional, scenario, her appearance was very brief and that viewers were unlikely to have formed any particular opinion about her as a result.

‘Ofcom considered that it was reasonable for the programme makers to take the view that Ms Livingstone had impliedly consented to the filming and that she did not have a legitimate expectation of privacy in relation to the filming.

‘Ofcom therefore found that Ms Livingstone’s privacy was not unwarrantably infringed in the programme as broadcast.’

Published: 10 Sep 2012

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