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Posts Tagged ‘Stephen Fry’

My defense to Fry’s Compliance Defiance

Posted by garethwatkins on September 6, 2009

Almost exactly a year ago, Stephen Fry posted one of his brilliant podcasts on his website. I was, and remain, a rabid fan of the man and always look forward to almost everything he does. I know far too much about the origins of the printing press because of him. But this podcast really struck a chord with me, because he was talking about me and my kind.

At this years Edinburgh International TV Festival Stephen Fry repeated this rant, almost word for word.

When I first heard the podcast last year I was moved enough to write a reply on his website forums and a year on, following his repetition, I felt it only right to repeat my counter argument. This time, here, for a different, and unfortunately smaller, audience. From reading the original thread, there’s little suggestion that the Frymaniacs on his site paid much mind to my comments. There’s even less evidence to suggest that he read them. And it seems very unlikely that he will stumble upon them here:

    Posted Wed Sep 3rd, 2008 12:43am Post subject: Podcast 5 – Shooting People in the Face (Compliance)

I can’t believe I’m about to do this, but I’m going to disagree with Stephen Fry.

Not with the sentiment, but with the choice of target: compliance departments. I work in a compliance department and I am one of those people who would have had to inform his director friend that they had to wear their seatbelts in the show. Not because I think that they should, but because the rules I am ensuring the show complies with dictates that they must.

Good compliance departments and those that work in them are not there to restrict those that produce television. In most cases, they are the people most likely to be trying to push the rules to their absolute limit. I assume that the decision to enforce the actors to wear their seatbelts were based on one of the following trains of thought.

If the actors are driving cars on public roads, for however long, it is illegal for them to do so without wearing a seatbelt. No matter how unrealistic it may seem for them to put them on, knowingly forcing them to break the law would put a lot of people in trouble.

If the cars were flatbed mounted, which may have allowed the actors to not wear they’re seatbelts (although I’m not sure of the legalities of this particular convolution), or they were driving on private roads, then the decision has been made for the protection of the viewer.

If the latter is the case, then this does strike me as an odd decision to have been made. They would presumably have been acting according to their interpretation of section 1.1 and 1.2 of the Ofcom code (I’ve stuck them at the bottom of this post. Don’t worry, they’re briefer than I am). Unfortunately this decision is rendered comlpetely ridiculous when you read 1.3 (again, at the bottom). Spooks is a post watershed programme, the content of which viewers are entirely aware. So it’s not that children can’t see people on television wearing seatbelts when driving cars but can see people being shot in the face, it is that children shouldn’t be watching television at 9pm at night and therefore shoudn’t be witnessing either act.

There is of course the great possibility that this is a BBC specific directive and in which case it is as ridiculous as most of the BBC’s other working practices. And I say that as an ex-BBC employee (no, I wasn’t fired and I didn’t work for their compliance department).

Now for my stance…it’s fucking stupidity to force them to have seatbelts on. It reflects no kind of situational reality and seperates the viewer from a “dramatically realistic” representation of an emergency. But then again, the last time I walked through the east end I’m sure I heard a lot more blue language than I’ve noticed on certain televisual representations of the area. I’ve also noticed than when talking with friends they tend not to emit bar-and-tone bleeps instead of saying “fuck” or “cunt.” And I’m reasonably sure that Mr Fry doesn’t do so either, despite the fact that his appearances on QI seem to imply that he does. I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiments in this podgram, as I do with almost everything else that Stephen Fry says (and I wish that didn’t sound so sycophantic), but the people in the compliance departments are rarely the people that make the rules. They simply ensure that those who work by them comply with them.

To finally finish with a small personal defence, the sort of person who works in a compliance department is rarely the idiot described in the podgram. I hope this post, for those that have managed to read it this far, demonstrates that I am, I think, one of the people Stephen Fry would like to think was listening to his podgrams. “Wise” and “sensible” seem strong descriptions to apply to myself, but I don’t think I’m the polar opposite either.

And it is not us compliance people that make the rules, unfortunately. The rules are ultimately created based on the opinions of the public. If enough people complain about something rules get made. And I’m sure we all know about the sort of people who complain…just mention doing something unpleasant to a cat (it’s all very funny on QI, Mr Fry, but you aren’t the one who has to deal with these idiots!). So ultimately the rules are made by you (and me) who, as members of the public, don’t write to Ofcom (or even the BBC directly) complaining that they were wearing their seatbelts in a situation where they clearly wouldn’t be. As part of the public, we’re all to blame.

And finally, while I’m writing in the hope you may read this, please keep the podgrams coming. I love them. Where this one made me a little riled, but also amused, the last one nearly brought me to tears. Unfortunately it nearly did so as I walked through the doors of my office making me look like a big girly girl in front of the other compliance types who were busy looking for untied shoe laces in late night drama series.

Ofcom Code
1.1 Material that might seriously impair the physical, mental or moral development of people under eighteen must not be broadcast.
1.2 In the provision of services, broadcasters must take all reasonable steps to protect people under eighteen.
1.3 Children must also be protected by appropriate scheduling from material that is unsuitable for them.

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