'Brother' flap wrist slap: Ofcom won't fine Ch. 4

But Shetty incident draws rebuke

LONDON -- Channel 4 has been forced to apologize to viewers for racism on reality show "Celebrity Big Brother" but escaped financial censure after media regulator Ofcom deemed it guilty of "serious editorial misjudgment" in the matter.

The broadcaster was found guilty of breaching editorial guidelines by allowing the bullying of Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty in the season of the Endemol-produced reality show that aired at the beginning of the year. The public firestorm over the events generated more than 50,000 complaints to the broadcaster and regulators as well as drawing censure from Prime Minister Tony Blair and the Indian government.

Ofcom said that Channel 4's editorial failings were compounded by "a serious failure" in its compliance procedures, which allowed the behavior to continue.

In a statement, Channel 4 CEO Andy Duncan accepted the censure and said the broadcaster will comply with the order to broadcast three separate apologies on screen ahead of Season 8 of "Big Brother," due to go on-air later this month.

"Ofcom takes allegations of racist abuse and bullying on television extremely seriously," chief executive Ed Richards said. "An unprecedented number of complaints were received and, whilst 'Celebrity Big Brother' was still on-air, we launched a full investigation. Broadcasters must be allowed to air controversial material but when they do their compliance and editorial procedures should be even tougher and sharper."

In a further statement, Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell said the broadcaster will have to improve its editorial oversight.

"Public service broadcasters hold a very special place of trust with the British people, and it is right that they are held to account by the regulator when there are issues of public concern," Jowell said.

"Errors of judgment were made which Channel 4 has acknowledged. I therefore welcome the measures that they have taken to ensure proper and rigorous oversight. We will be watching very closely to ensure that these have the desired effect."

The episode has been the most difficult to date in the tenure of chief executive Andy Duncan, who himself faced calls to resign over the matter. However, the fact that no financial penalty has been imposed suggests that his position is now safe.

Channel 4 has undertaken to make a series of improvements to its editorial and compliance procedures, and has appointed a viewers' editor to take account of audience views.

"We accept Ofcom's judgment that, on the occasions in question, we did not ensure that 'Big Brother' intervened with the necessary promptness or strength," Duncan said. "We would like to say sorry once again for the offense caused to viewers as a result."