UK media regulatory body Ofcom have once more issued a formal warning to satellite broadacsters Sky on how they broadcast their content, claiming this time that a rerun episode of paranormal reality entertainment show Most Haunted was inappropriate for pre-watershed airing.
The former 14-season series, presented and executive produced by Yvette Fielding, was notable for presented by English psychic Derek Acorah, who frequently becomes ‘possessed’ during episodes by ‘dark spirits’, though one episode which featured this frequently has come under fire for being aired at 6pm.
Aired on 17 October 2012 before the watershed hour of 9pm on Sky-owned Freeview channel ‘Pick TV’, the rerun season 4 episode from 2004 saw the team head to ‘Chatham Dockyard’ in Chatham (England), to investigate reports of ‘malevolent spirits’ and ‘dark evil shadows’.
The episode introduced the stories of numerous spirits that roamed the area, several of which ‘possessed’ Acorah during the episode, including a soldier named Richard Neville, a 9-year-old boy named Barney Little, and ‘Lizzie’, a woman who had abused him. The ‘Lizzie’ segment was deemed especially controversial for early broadcast, with Acorah speaking ‘in a rasping voice’ and contorting his face, and reducing a Chatham Dockyard employee to tears when she identified Lizzie as responsible for one of her children dying.
An independent complaint from a viewer brought the matter to Ofcom’s attention, and they have now issued a formal warning to Sky, despite the broadcaster’s position that the series is an ‘entertainment show’ and as such is not limited to restrictions that might be placed on it in the ‘horror’ genre. A further point made by Sky was that they scheduled the programme on Pick TV at a timeslot when sensitive audiences such as children were unlikely to be tuning in ‘in significant numbers’.
In a genuine ‘slow clap’ moment, Ofcom admitted in the defence of Most Haunted that the programme airs a disclaimer warning that any ‘spiritual activity’ portrayed might not have actually occurred, and that Acorah could be “simply play acting for the cameras”.
Despite the arguments for the broadcast, Ofcom did recognise that the episode was ‘consistently dark and menacing’ in comparision to most other broadcasts of Most Haunted, formally stating on the matter: “In Ofcom’s view, the cumulative effect of the malevolent nature of the spirits who ‘appeared’ either through Derek’s ‘possessions’ or were recounted in the experiences presented, and the repeated references to children being harmed, mistreated or murdered resulted in this particular episode being consistently dark and menacing. Therefore it had the potential to cause distress to younger members of the audience. When scheduling programmes that include paranormal practices for entertainment purposes which were originally intended for broadcast later in the schedule, broadcasters should take great care. They should ensure that such programmes are individually complied so they are appropriately scheduled.”
Always providing an outlet for such ‘controversial’ content, a clip of the ‘Lizzie’ segment can be seen below, and while it is not showing the whole episode or the scenes that came under criticism, it seems more likely that children would laugh rather than cry at this minute of footage…