Ofcom slams 'Top Gear' over spoof ads

Monday, November 9 2009, 18:36 GMT

By Andrew Laughlin,

Ofcom has rapped the producers of Top Gear for screening a joke car advert depicting a man shooting himself in the head.

Around 50 viewers complained to the media regulator about a series of spoof Volkswagen commercials created by presenters James May and Jeremy Clarkson for the final episode of the BBC Two show's last series.

Aired on August 2, one advert featured a man committing suicide with a gunshot. Another depicted a hospital waiting room with someone carrying a blood-spattered severed arm.

In response, Ofcom ruled that the "graphic" films were unsuitable to be shown during Top Gear's pre-watershed timeslot.

Despite the regulator accepting that the hospital scene was "so comically exaggerated and preposterous" that it could be justified, the watchdog stated that the shooting sequence breached broadcasting guidelines as there was "no editorial justification" for its inclusion.

"The spoof suicide was graphically depicted on screen with the man holding the gun to his temple and firing and blood splattering into the air after the bloody impact of the gunshot. Its realistic depiction meant that the violent imagery was not appropriately limited," said Ofcom in its ruling.

"It was precisely because Top Gear is an established entertainment programme which features a typical sort of humour that many viewers - including some adults watching with children - would not have expected such a violent scene to appear.

"Ofcom noted there was no information before the spoof advertisement was shown which would have prepared viewers for its potentially disturbing nature and alerted adult viewers to the fact that it may be unsuitable for younger viewers.

"These factors taken together meant that the scene exceeded audience expectations for the programme and led to Ofcom - on balance - to conclude that there was no editorial justification for its inclusion."

Despite the BBC removing the scene from the 7pm repeat on the following day, Ofcom said that most younger viewers would have already seen the offending material.

The regulator estimated that 204,000 children, ranging from ages 4 to 9, saw the broadcast of Top Gear on Sunday, compared to 168,000 who caught the repeat.