'Emmerdale' King exit breaches Ofcom code

Monday, May 11 2009, 11:46 BST

By Kris Green,

Broadcasting regulator Ofcom has ruled that the climax to Matthew King's story in Emmerdale was unacceptably violent for a pre-watershed programme, therefore breaching the broadcasting code.

At the end of last year, the Yorkshire-based rural serial aired a one-hour wedding special, which featured the non-nuptials of Matthew King (Matt Healy) and Anna de Souza (Emma Davies). The episode - which originally aired between 7pm and 8pm on December 16 - also saw the exit of Healy's character from the show.

At the ceremony, Matthew's brother Carl (Tom Lister) announced to Anna that her husband-to-be had been responsible for her father Donald's (Michael Jayston) death. A two-minute physical fight between the siblings quickly broke out and featured kicks and blows to their bodies and heads, the use of a tall lampstand as a weapon, characters screaming, objects being smashed and blood pouring from wounds.

The episode reached its climax when a bloodied Matthew drove a van at speed towards Carl but, on seeing that his lover Anna would also be hurt, he swerved and smashed into a wall. The impact catapulted him through the windscreen and he ultimately died in Anna's arms.

Following the broadcast, Ofcom received 17 complaints from viewers who believed the fight to be "too graphic and violent for the time of transmission".

In response to the complaints, ITV maintained that the "degree of threat and of actual violence was appropriately limited" and Emmerdale, like other soaps, regularly contains "family conflicts" and that in this instance, viewers "would have expected a confrontation between [the brothers] to be explosive and potentially physical".

ITV acknowledged that it had "no intention to cause viewers concern or distress" and pointed out that it trailed the episode with a voiceover which described it as including a "violent encounter for the King brothers".

The show makers also claimed that the episode was edited in such a way as to "moderate the explicit violence of the confrontation to a level that it judged would be acceptable for the editorial context".

The commercial broadcaster went on to say that the scene consisted "primarily of pushing, shoving and raised voices interspersed by dialogue" and during filming, a conscious effort was made "to minimise detailed shots of violent blows seen by the viewer". Addressing the use of the lampstand as a weapon, ITV asserted that "while [it] was picked up and used in a threatening manner, care was taken to ensure that the subsequent blow from the lampstand was not explicitly shown."

However, Ofcom ruled that the episode "contained an unacceptable level of violence" for a prgramme that airs two hours before the watershed, duing which a "considerable number" of children are likely to be watching.