ITV has been censured by the media regulator for airing a documentary series on policing without making it clear that it was fully funded by the Home Office.
Ofcom said that although there was no evidence that the Home Office had influenced the content of Beat: Life On The Street, the sponsorship agreement was not transparent enough to viewers.
The series, made by independent production company Twofour, was broadcast on ITV1 in November 2006, with a second run commissioned for February 2007.
The observational documentaries followed the work of police community support officers in Oxford and Lancashire, dealing with disputes between neighbours, unruly teenagers and school bullies.
Last August, the Sunday Telegraph revealed that the Home Office had spent £1.2m over three years sponsoring factual programmes for PR purposes.
This included a total of £800,000 in funding for the two series of Beat: Life On The Street. After the Sunday Telegraph story, two readers complained to Ofcom that this amounted to “propaganda”.
Another government-funded documentary, looking at the work of the UK Border Agency, aired on Sky One in September – produced by Steadfast TV and made with £400,000 of Home Office money.
The Home Office said it became involved with Beat: Life On The Street because it wanted to “improve public awareness” of PCSOs.
Channel TV, the ITV franchisee on the Isle of Man that handled the compliance procedure for the series, said the producers kept “complete editorial independence” throughout its making.
But Ofcom concluded that although there had been no editorial interference, the programme did not make it clear enough to viewers that the show was government-funded.
It said a small logo appeared during the end credits for “a brief period” – and the sponsorship agreement “was not transparent”.
“Ofcom judged that the Home Office’s role and relationship with the series, as its sponsor, was not made sufficiently clear,” the regulator ruled.
“The sponsorship arrangement was unsuitable because of the Home Office’s involvement with, and interest in, the PCSO service.”
While there is nothing stopping a Government department from sponsoring a television programme, they are governed by a strict set of guidelines by the media regulator designed to ensure editorial and advertising are not confused.
Although the Sunday Telegraph report last August named a number of other programmes that had received government money in recent years, Ofcom confirmed today that it was not investigating any other cases relating to advertiser-funded documentaries.